Whenever a Roman leaves his house he steps out with the right foot first. Riding in a carriage, entering the Forum, a market, a temple or entering any place, he would always stop and then lead with his right foot. Good beginnings lead to good things. So the Romans believed. This is the origin of our sentiment to “Put your best foot forward” whenever beginning a new venture. That is the idea behind the New Year rite that some practitioners of the modern Religio Romana have adopted.
The Roman New Year begins Monday. That is, 14 January 2013 CE equates to 1 January 2766 AUC (Julian). Whatever happens that day may indicate the fortune of the family in the year ahead. Thus care is taken to ensure that a good omen arrives with the first person to enter the house in the New Year. Nicholas Vado would bear a lantern and wassail his oldest apple tree with cakes and mulled cider. He sings to the genius loci, to the Lares and to the Penates, toasting them and pouring out libations. Offerings are left in the tree limbs. The garden gate, the outbuildings, and other stations that mark out his place likewise see him present offering of song, drink, and cakes for the spirits of the land that live beside his family. The Lares and Penates outdoors being appeased, he then turns towards the front door.
Arriving, he knocks at the door seeking entry, and thereby he is the first to enter his house in the New Year. He enters with his right foot first. He bears a tray on which he has placed salt for health and preservation, bread for sufficiency, sweet desserts for a sweet year, money for wealth, coal for light and frugality, along with other gifts. The house and all within it are blessed, greeted with drinks, and a gift package placed over the door lintel. He moves then to his lararium to offer candle light, frankincense, food and drink to his Lares and patron Gods. Vado then continues his festivities with family and friends, eating, drinking, celebrating the New Year. And for the rest of that first day he his time doing what he most wishes to do in the coming year.
My own celebration of New Year’s Eve is much the same. I will bear a tray, stopping to pour libations and offer bread-cakes at my outdoor altars for the Manes, Terminus at the boundaries, Ceres Ferentina in Her fanum along with gifts for Flora, Proserpina, and Dis Pater, at the altar for Jupiter, at the trees dedicated to Silvanus and Diana, and at the shrines for the Lares and Penates. The latter include a little shrine to honor the spirits of former pets and animals that are buried on my land.
Like Vado I am the first to enter my house in the New Year and thus I bear a tray in the same manner as he with symbolic offerings. Salt, bread, and fruit of course. The coins I bear include ancient silver sesterces and Roman bronze coins to honor my ancient ancestors. I bear Hungarian florins, Ukrainian hryvnias, Euros from an assortment of countries, Rumanian leus, and ancient Viet Namese bronze coins as well as other mementos of places I’ve visited to indicate my interest in future travels and my desire to always return home. And of course I include US dollars to attract wealth for the year ahead. My tray includes libation bowls and sacramental implements, bearing the Gods along with them for the cultus I shall continue into the next year. There is heads of wheat to represent my Lar familiaris and seeds for plants I shall grow in the garden. There are candles and oil lamps for light and wisdom in the New Year. There are cloths and incense, stones, relics, and other things, each holding a special significance. There are many herbs I include: St John’s wort and melissa, to be sure, culinary herbs, medicinal herbs for various conditions, and some magical herbs as well. It is a large, antique tray, I carry, about a metre in diameter, of Egyptian brass. It has to be large as it bears so many hopes and blessings for the family’s future. This year it will include oak leaves and juniper berries from Abruzzo, nuts, acorns, mistletoe, laurel, and olive branches, soil, marble, and stones from my travels through Italy, to be deposited in my lararium for my ancestors. Each item, so placed, thus celebrates the year just passed, while lending our best wishes for the year ahead.
I wish you all a Good, Happy, and Beneficial New Year:
Annum Nouum bonum faustum felicem!