Thursday, January 03, 2019

New Year Customs

Happy New Year!

Do you eat black-eyed peas for luck on New Year's Day? Although my grandmother, who grew up in rural North Carolina, often cooked black-eyed peas, she never mentioned this tradition. Weirdly, I heard of it only after getting married, even though my husband was a "Navy brat" whose family didn't settle in Virginia until he was about twelve. Some cooks include a coin in the pot, with the person who finds the coin getting extra luck. My husband doesn't do that. Nor does he follow the additional custom of eating collard greens along with the peas. Peas symbolize prosperity, and the greens represent money. Another superstition mandates eating exactly 365 peas, a separate portion of luck for each day of the year. (Who counts out 365 peas for each serving at the table? And in leap years, do they add one more?) Lentils, similarly, are sometimes said to bring prosperity because they represent coins. There's an Italian sweet pastry that should be eaten at New Year's to ensure a sweet year. All these arise from sympathetic magic, of course, the concept that apparent resemblances have real-world effects.

Scottish tradition includes the belief that the "first footer"—the first person to cross the threshold of your home after midnight on New Year's Eve—should be a dark-haired man. A woman or a non-dark-haired person as first footer brings bad luck rather than good.

Here's a list of New Year's superstitions, mainly things you should avoid doing on the first day of the year:

New Year's Superstitions

Don't cry on that day, or you'll have sadness all year—okay. But don't wash the dishes or the laundry? Those are new to me.

Another common belief is that you shouldn't begin the year owing any debt. Excellent advice, but most of us have little hope of fulfilling that condition, what with all the credit card charges for holiday gifts and festivities.

My parents had a tradition of taking down the Christmas tree on New Year's Day. Several decades ago I joyfully abandoned this exhausting and depressing habit. I don't start un-decorating until Epiphany (January 6, the end of the "twelve days of Christmas").

Aside from the traditional kiss at midnight, do you follow any particular customs to inaugurate the New Year?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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