It’s New Year’s Eve. As I’m getting older and the world has been changing so much, I will probably do as I have done these past few years – have a glass of bubbly to send out 2021, then go to bed sometime between nine and ten. The fall of the ball in New York City does nothing for me. Neither does any other televised event. And I’m not one for any loud noises anyhow.
By now, anybody who is going to celebrate a New Year’s Eve party will probably have planned their dinners (here it will be a festive one for two, for sure). And there will be party decorations, too. Some of it just fun stuff such as balloons and confetti, some other stuff more classical and meaningful such as ladders and black top hats (or chimneysweep figurines with both), shamrocks, and pink pigs. Or horseshoes.
Horseshoes? Indeed, those metal ones that get nailed to a domesticated horse’s insensitive hoof wall to protect its foot from potential injuries. In some nations, horseshoeing is a profession; not just the blacksmith work but the shoeing itself. And ancient lore celebrates farriers and blacksmiths alike, men who were appreciated for their skills but often had a mysterious if not dark side to their characters. Which probably is because of their sooty profession and their skill to change the state of matter from something solid towards semi-liquid and shapeable.
The most common materials these days are steel and aluminum. And these are the ones that are also supposed to bring luck. Provided you found them without searching for them. And even more so if there are still three nails attached. I have no idea why the nails; but the number of them is a lucky number of course. I’m not sure either if I considered it luck if I came across such a horseshoe. To be honest – what would it mean to me other than something that somebody else has lost?! On the other hand – how likely is it to stumble across a horseshoe unattached to a horse’s hoof?!
Even archaeologists have a hard time finding them, apparently. Because iron was such a valuable metal, it was reforged and reused over and over again. Apart from one bronze find in an Etruscan tomb from 400 B.C., historians have to believe literary references when it comes to the existence of horseshoes. In the Middle Ages, horseshoes were even accepted in lieu of money for tax payments!
So, iron – the material horseshoes were usually made from – was valuable. But it was also considered to ward off evil spirits. Horseshoes usually had seven nails to hold them to a horse hoof – another lucky number. A Christian legend tells a story of the English blacksmith Dunstan (and later Archbishop of Canterbury) nailing a horseshoe to the devil’s hoof instead of his horse. In order to get the horseshoe removed, the devil had to promise never to enter a household with a horseshoe nailed to the door.
Aha, you may think! But which is the right side up? If a horseshoe is supposed to mean luck for the family, ought the ends to be up in order to hold all the luck that comes upon it? Or should the points be down, so luck is poured upon who enters the home? And would you believe it, some have two irons hanging above the door, one with the points up, one with the points down – that must be for the skeptics among the superstitious. Whereas those who are with one leg in superstition and the other in Christian faith, are hanging their horseshoes with the opening to the right as a “C” for “Christ”.
My mother knew all such things and taught me them from childhood on. I can also still hear her say, “Dâ hoeret ouch geloube zuo“, medieval German for “You also have to believe in this”. So, whether you place those lucky symbols onto your New Year’s Eve table or not, if you believe in them or not, if you party or not – a Happy New Year to all of you!