The New Year's Shoot
Collected from Mr. A. Sidney Beam, of Cherryville, in January, 1948, by Professor Arthur Palmer Hudson. The custom of welcoming in the New Year with gunfire appears to have been carried into North Carolina by German speaking immigrants, whose descendants perpetuate it to this day, at least in Gaston county. The first written record of the North Carolina "Shoot" bears the date of 1774, but the custom may have been observed there even earlier. Mr. Beam states that he as been saying the "New Year's Speech" for 59 years, and believes the custom to be well over 150 years old. The shooting begins promptly at midnight of New Year's Eve and continues until sunrise the following morning. The celebrants make a tour of the homes in the vicinity, stopping at each to discharge their pieces after the recital of the following chant. What ever its original purpose (to drive away evil spirits, to promote fertility, etc.), the custom is now apparently only a way of showing the crowd's good wishes to the people whose homes are visited. Since Professor Hudson is later to publish elsewhere a full account of this interesting custom, I present here only the traditional speech or chant as supplied him by Mr. Beam.
Good morning to you Sir,
We wish you a happy New Year,
Great health, long life,
Which God may bestow
So long as you stay here below.
May he bestow the house you are in
Where you go out and you go in.
Time by moments steals away
First the hour and then the day.
Small the lost days may appear
But yet they soon amount up to a year.
This another year is gone
And now it is no more of our own,
But if it brings our promises good
As the year before the flood.
But let none of us forget
It has left us much in debt.
A favor from the Lord received
Since which our spirits hath been grieved.
Marked by the unerring hand
Thus in his book our record stands.
Who can tell the vast amount
Placed to each of our accounts?
But while you owe the debt is large
You may plead a full discharge.
But poor and selfish sinners say
What can you to justice pay?
Trembling last for life is past
And into prison you may be cast.
Happy is the believing soul.
Christ for you has paid the whole.
We have this New Years morning called you by your name
And disturbed you from your rest.
But we hope no harm by the same.
As we ask come tell us your desire
And if it be your desire our guns and pistols they shall fire.
Since we hear of no defiance
You shall hear the art of science.
When we pull triggers and powder burns
You shall hear the roaring of guns.
Oh, daughter of righteousness, we will rise
And warm our eyes and bless our hearts,
For the old year's gone and the New Year's come
And for good luck we'll fire our guns.
I had never heard nor even read the New Year's Shoot chant before I stumbled across it in The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. But I can atest the tradition of shooting guns on New Year's Eve is alive and well in my area of Appalachia.