We are a very Scottish family. Each New Year's Eve (or Hogmanay in Scotland) we give a party, and many of the men dress in kilts. Haggis is served, and there is never a scrap left.
My cousin, Tim, who lives in Boston, always attends the party and introduced us to the Scottish tradition of first-footing. The custom says if the first visitor who arrives at your house after midnight of the new year is a tall male with dark hair, good luck will follow you for the next twelve months. This gentleman also must bring gifts with him. He usually brings scotch (no surprise there), salt, bread and always coal.
Tim, who fortunately for us, happens to be tall with dark hair, follows this tradition slavishly. Just before the stroke of midnight, he leaves our house by the back door, braving cold and sometimes snow, and knocks at the front door. Quite ceremoniously, he presents us with a bottle of single malt scotch, salt, a loaf of bread and a cachet of coal. The problem, of course, is the coal.
Prior to his debut first footing evening, Tim began searching Boston for a lump of coal. He thought it would be easy to tuck it into his suitcase and go. This was not to be, as no one had just a lump of coal. If anyone sold coal at all, the smallest amount was fifty pounds. Tim searched the greater Boston area for coal sold in smaller amounts. There were no smaller amounts. Fifty pounds. Take it or leave it. He chose the former and drove to his condo, richer by fifty pounds of coal.
That was four years ago. Tim now has forty five pounds of coal in his condo, tucked away in a closet. As long as our New Year's Eve party continues, there is hope of his coal's diminishing bit by bit. If not, perhaps he may want to have an A Christmas Carol party that features the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge who burns the stuff all at one go.