In folklore, there are many beliefs associated with Christmas but for this story I focussed on those around love. Although there are plenty of love superstitions that don’t need it to be Christmas-time, in this light-hearted tale, I have brought together some of those that were believed to only work at this festive time of year. If you are interested in Christmas superstitions, in general, a good starting point is Folklore Thursday’s Christmas Superstitions: a Festive Survival Guide.
‘I’ve made a decision,’ Faye said. Ruth raised an eyebrow but Faye ignored her. ‘I am done with online dating. I’ve deleted the apps, cancelled my subscriptions. No more dumb dates based on who a stupid computer thinks I will like. Nope. I am going to let Fate decide. She raised her glass with unsteady abruptness sending red wine rushing up the sides; precariously close to spilling.
‘That’s great, good for you,’ Ruth said. ‘Does that mean you want me to set you up with Damien from work?’ Faye waved her hand and leaned forward. ‘No, it means I am going to let Fate decide.’ She looked intently at Ruth and nodded her head vigorously. Ruth glanced at the half-empty wine glass and back at her friend.
‘Ok,’ Ruth said. ‘Fate. Nice. So just going to sit back and see if anyone approaches you. That is certainly my philosophy. If it happens, it happens.’
Faye shook her head again. ‘No, you might be happy with that but I want something more guaranteed. No. I mean going back to how people used to find their True Loves.’ Ruth almost spat out her wine, ‘Like arranged marriages? Not sure they were always True Loves.’
Faye laughed and pulled out a book from her bag. ‘No, I mean by helping Fate. It’s all here. It explains it all and makes so much sense.’ Ruth took the book, Christmas Traditions and Customs, and began to flick through it as Faye carried on talking. ‘I got it as a secret Santa present at work but it’s really good – it talks about all sorts of things that can be lucky or unlucky at Christmas time. Christmas time is a particularly big time for luck and to get it wrong can mean bad luck all year.’
Ruth looked cynically back at her. ‘It says here not to drink alcohol on Christmas Eve.’
‘Oh, some of them are just superstitious crap, for sure. And besides I’m not after general luck, just love luck.’
‘Right,’ Ruth said. She burst out laughing, ‘Wow Faye, for a second I thought you really meant to,’ and she began to read, ‘ “…find a kneeling donkey and make the sign of the cross on its back”.’
‘I’m not joking, Ruth,’ Faye said looking genuinely hurt. ‘It all makes sense.’ She grabbed the book and flicked through the pages. ‘Look here, “you should never give shoes as a Christmas gift as you are giving the recipient the means to walk away from you”.’
‘So…last Christmas I gave Andrew shoes! And then he walked away from me.’
‘Well, technically he flew away from you. And not because of you but because he got transferred back to America.’
‘But that’s just it. He still left, not six months later. No suggestion of doing long distance.’
‘Faye, he was moving back to San Diego…never mind…I think that is just a coincidence rather than Fate.’
‘I’m not prepared to risk it. So I have a list of things that can only be done on Christmas Eve, all before midnight.’ Faye paused. ‘And I was hoping you would come with me.’
‘Come with you where?’
‘Nowhere far. Local places I promise.’
‘It’s pitch black.’
‘We can use our phones as torches.’
Ruth felt there must be tons of other reasons she could give but she also knew her friend well enough to know she would do this venture with or without her. ‘Ok, fine. I will come with you but I am not, under any circumstances, actually taking part.’
‘Thank you!’ Faye stood up and grabbed her jacket.
‘What, right this second? We still have wine.’
‘We’ll bring it with us,’ Faye said screwing the cap back on and tucking it inside her jacket.
Faye and Ruth jostled their way through the pub until they were finally outside and the noise of merriment was a muffled backdrop. They headed down the lane with a childhood familiarity that gives the confidence to walk sure-footed in the dark. Ruth pulled out a small packet of mince pies.
‘No, thanks. Oh actually yeah, I’ll have one. You know what they say about mince pies? The number of mince pies you eat during the Christmas season is equivalent to the number of months of happiness for the coming year.’
‘Oh come on,’ Ruth said, scattering crumbs as she took a bite. ‘That doesn’t make any sense. I mean what if you have 13? Do you get to roll one over to the year after?’
‘I don’t think the idea is you gorge on mince pies.’
‘That’s not gorging – that’s not even one a day. Or what if they are the mini ones? Does that only get you two weeks of luck?’
The bantering stopped when Faye stepped into a siding. ‘Ok, first stop,’ she said.
‘Not here here, we have to go into this field.’
Ruth peered into the darkness. ‘What if there’s a bull in there?’
‘There’s not, I checked earlier,’ Faye said climbing over the locked gate. Ruth followed and jumped down straight into the mud. ‘Urgh, I’m wearing suede boots.’
‘You’ve become too city to go to the country with suede boots. Come on.’ Faye began to trot through the field, now and again the light from her phone would disappear as she stumbled in divots but soon she stopped again. Ruth glanced at Faye, ‘So what happens now?’
‘I have to knock on that hen house,’ Faye said with a nod towards the small wooden structure that stood a few feet in front of them. ‘If a rooster answers, I will be married but if there’s silence I will never marry. I thought I would start with this belief because if the rooster doesn’t answer, then I know I’m not going to get married, so the other folklore divinations, which tell me about who I will marry, are irrelevant, aren’t they?
‘Oh yeah, that’s very sensible.’ Ruth tried to sound sincere.
Faye approached the hen house and knocked quietly on the door. No answer. Ruth watched Faye’s shoulders droop and her head sink as the silence from the hen house stretched around them. ‘It was quite a quiet knock, Faye,’ she said. ‘Maybe knock louder so the rooster can hear you.’
Faye tried again, this time rapping her knuckles firmly against the wood. Still no answer. Ruth came closer and put her ear up to the side of the coop. ‘You sure there are even chickens in this thing?’
‘Of course there are.’
‘It’s really quiet. I mean I get that I’m all city-fied now but don’t hens normally make some sort of noise, even at night?’
Faye put her ear to the hen coop too and then jumped back as Ruth started to open the door. ‘Don’t do that! What if they escape?’
‘Just opening it a little…it’s empty.’ With the light of the phone, Ruth and Faye peered into the bare hen coop. Only a few strands of straw suggested evidence of it being previously inhabited.
‘Never mind, hon. Shall we go now?’
‘No,’ Faye said. ‘There’s more to do.’ With that she headed to the other end of the field and towards the back of the farmhouse whose field they were in. Before Ruth could catch up with her and stop her, they were on the stony track leading to the cowsheds. The farmhouse was blanketed in darkness, the curtained windows gave the house the appearance of sleeping. Just before the cowshed was the pigsty and this is where Faye finally stopped.
‘This is crazy, Faye,’ Ruth hissed. ‘What if Sarah wakes up? She won’t know it’s us and might shoot us; farmers out here all have shotguns.’
Faye waved her hand dismissing Ruth’s concerns, handed her the wine bottle and started to climb the wall around the pigsty. It wasn’t tall but she still was struggling to get to the top.
‘Help me!’ she said.
‘What are you going to do when you get in with the pigs exactly?’ Ruth was beginning to regret agreeing to this. Faye was stranded; her body half over the wall while her right leg tried to find purchase to push her up.
‘Young women who go out and hit pigs with a stick at Christmas can tell the age of their husbands-to-be: if the first pig that squeals is old, that means an old husband but if the first pig to squeal is young that equals a young husband,’ she recited as she made a third attempt to pull herself over.
‘No offence, but do you think you are still ‘young’?’
‘Twenty-five is not old.’
‘It might have been considered so back when all these superstitions were being thought up.’
A dog started barking. Faye catapulted herself off the wall. A light came on. They bolted down the track, out onto the road and, panting and laughing, headed home. They took swigs from the bottle of wine as they walked and arrived at Faye’s parents’ house as the church clock chimed 11pm.
‘There’s one final thing and then I promise you can go,’ Faye said.
‘No more trespassing, or trying to get close to animals.’
‘This can be done in my parent’s garden. We need a pear tree.’
‘They have a pear tree?’
‘I think so. Or it might be an apple. But pretty sure it’s pear.’
They stood in front of the tree which hugged the boundary fence; it seemed small and cold without its leaves. Faye began to walk around it backwards but she hadn’t gone more than a few steps before she stumbled and fell into the tree.
‘Help me will you? I have to do this nine times so that I can receive a vision of my future love.’
They held hands and both walked backwards, scratching their hands as they squeezed between the fence and tree, stumbling over unseen exposed roots and generally getting dizzier and dizzier.
‘Nine! Done,’ Ruth said with relief.
‘Oh! Just remembered another one I can do to see if I will get married within the year,’ Faye said as they headed up the garden. As they approached the backdoor, she started to pull off one of her trainers but the laces were tight. ‘I just need to…,’ she said tugging at the shoe, ‘throw a shoe… at a door.’ She hopped about on the patio before pulling it free, throwing it towards the door and, at the same time, fell over face-first. The shoe missed the door and hit the kitchen window with a loud thud; Faye sat up slowly, blood dripping from her forehead and nose. Ruth heard the tread of footsteps coming through the kitchen and then looked up into the bleary-eyed face of Faye’s dad.
For all that Faye’s dad can be a bit offish, he’s been pretty cool about this, Ruth thought as they waited for him to get the car from the hospital car park. Faye flicked through her book, her nose still had tampon-looking cotton wool up both nostrils and her forehead was a criss-cross of sticking tape but she didn’t seem to care.
‘Hey, no wonder the chicken thing didn’t work!’ she said, waving the book in excitement. ‘You’re meant to do it between 11 and midnight. We were there too early!’
At that moment, the doctor who had cleaned Faye up, walked out. No longer in his scrubs, it took Ruth a minute to register who this person was standing next to them.
‘You ok to get home?’
‘Yeah, thanks. Just waiting for her dad to bring the car round.’
He nodded. ‘Well, here’s my number if you need anything else or if you have any questions,’ he said scribbling his phone number onto the back of an old train ticket.
‘Oh, ok. Thanks.’
They both watched him walk off.
‘He’s cute,’ Faye said. ‘And a doctor…’
‘I’m not calling him. Who gives their number out like that?’
‘You HAVE to call him.’
Ruth gave Faye a funny look. ‘You really did bang your head.’
‘Don’t you see, it works! You walked around the pear tree nine times and then suddenly a cute doctor is giving you his number. It’s a sign! A brief encounter you could argue is like a glimpse…like a vision…’ She pointed at her book.
Ruth laughed, ‘There are no holes in that argument. But here,’ she said handing Faye a mince pie, ‘let’s stick to finding happiness in mince pies.‘
You may also enjoy: