new year’s eve, maryland in december

We don’t normally travel for New Year’s, but someone (me) brightly planned a trip leaving on January 1 right after the busy holidays. Since we would be gone for a full week, we asked my parents to watch Ollie again while we were away and booked our flight out of Baltimore. Eric and I are both fortunate enough to be able to work from anywhere most of the time, so we decided to work that Monday from my parents’ house in Maryland so we could be there for New Year’s Eve. We only got back from Christmas in Georgia on Wednesday night and had a lot of work, laundry, cleaning, unpacking, and repacking to do before we felt ready to hit the road for the third weekend in a row. We finally left on Sunday afternoon and split the driving on the journey north. 

As it was raining most of New Year’s Eve, we were all glad we had opted to skip going out on the town and instead chose a meal at home to close out 2018. My dad donned his clear poncho to grill out some steaks and we had a nice, quiet, last dinner of the year. I mentioned how Eric and I never got around to watching Avatar, so my parents rented it on demand and we all piled into the den to watch it that evening. We paused it a few minutes before midnight so we could watch the ball drop on TV, and my dad whispered to me that he wanted Eric to walk in behind him as he did his usual New Year’s tradition of being the “first foot.”

While the tradition varies from areas of Britain and different families, in our family it is simply that a man – preferably a tall, dark man – be the first to step foot over the home’s threshold in the new year… and he has to be carrying a piece of coal. This is supposed to bring good luck and fortune to the family for the next year. As long as I can remember, my dad would walk outside a minute or two before midnight with his piece of coal and stand shivering until he knew it was officially the new year. He’d then enter again and give Mom her New Year’s kiss, placing the piece of coal back on its shelf until the next year. It’s probably one of our weirder British traditions, but it felt really special to hear that my dad wanted to pass the tradition along to Eric and include him in it so he could see how it was done. 

Dad grabbed his usual piece plus his extra piece of coal and, at 11:58, the two of them walked outside while Mom and I watched the ball go down. They waited a few minutes and then crossed the threshold one after another. Dad even gave us his extra piece of coal so we could carry on the tradition at home. I didn’t think much more of it until we got back from our vacation eight days later. When we pulled up into our driveway in Charlotte, Eric asked where I had packed the coal away and that I get it out so he could do the first foot in our home properly. Heart drop. 

Jess and Eric Pendergrass, closeup kiss at midnight on New Year's

Coal or not, 2019 is going to be a good year. 

Ollie the dog yawning

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