“Do you have your pot of ‘hoppin’ john’ cooking?”
That is usually the first question my mother asks me when she calls on New Year’s Day. As everyone knows, this dish of black-eyed peas, rice and pork is based on a Southern tradition that says eating black-eyed peas will bring luck in the coming year.
That always gets me thinking about some of the traditions and old superstitions that we have heard all our lives. I want to share some with you.
New Year’s is the oldest of all holidays and was first observed in Babylon about 4,000 years ago. Around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first full moon or the first day of spring. This was a logical time for a new year to begin as it is the season of rebirth, when new crops are planted and flowers bloom.
The Babylonian New Year lasted for 11 days. Each day had a particular celebration. Our New Year celebrations pale in comparison to the ones the Babylonians held many years ago.
Various emperors kept changing the calendar until the Roman Senate in 153 BC declared Jan. 1 to be the beginning of the New Year. But the emperors continued tampering with the calendar and changing it. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar established what he called the Julian Calendar. He also set Jan. 1 as the beginning of the year but had to let the year drag on for 445 days instead of 365 in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun. Western nations have been celebrating New Year’s for only about 400 years.
Making New Year’s resolutions also dates back to the early Babylonians. Today most people make a pledge to lose weight or stop smoking. The most popular one back then was to return all borrowed farm implements.
I don’t make resolutions because I know I won’t keep them or I will forget about them.
The Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, Calif., is another New Year’s tradition. The ripening of the California orange crop was the reason for the Tournament of Roses Parade when it began in 1886. Members of the Valley Hunt Club would decorate their carriages with flowers. In 1902, the Rose Bowl football game was played as part of the Tournament of Roses festivities. The next year, the Roman Chariot Races took the bowl game’s place. Football returned in 1916 as the sports centerpiece of the festival.
In ancient Greece, around 600 BC, people celebrated New Year’s by placing a baby in a basket and parading it around. Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth. The use of a baby to represent the New Year was brought to America by the Germans, who had used it since the fourteenth century.
Hopping john is a food that all Southerners are very familiar with. It consists of a pot of black-eyed peas cooked with rice and a piece of hog jowl or ham for seasoning. This is the one food that must be cooked on New Year’s Day. The custom of eating pork on New Year’s is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving forward.
You are not supposed to eat chicken or turkey because they hunt for their food by scratching backwards. If you eat poultry, you may be scratching in the dirt all year for your dinner or bringing poverty on yourself.
Eating greens is said to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Cabbage is good because its leaves allegedly represent money, but in our area, collard greens are the most popular for New Year’s dinner. Dan Rogers, a farmer I know in our area, grows collard greens and has to work day and night at this time of the year to make sure he gets enough collards gathered for the stores’ enormous demands. Dan said he wishes New Year’s dinner came every day!
I remember one New Year’s Day when my three children were small and I was gathering up dirty clothes to wash. My husband demanded to know what in the world I was doing. I told him I was going to wash a load of dirty clothes. “Oh, no,” he told me. “You cannot do that!”
Apparently, it’s bad luck to do the wash on the first day of the year. If I did, my husband warned, someone in the family would die before the year ended. OK, I piled the dirty clothes back in the basket until the next day.
Here are some other interesting superstitions and traditions:
• Wear something new on the first day to ensure that you will get some more new garments in the coming year.
• Do not pay back loans or lend money or you will be paying back all year.
• Do not break anything or wreckage will be part of your year.
• Do not cry on the first day or that will set the tone for your year.
• Make a loud noise at midnight to scare away all evil spirits.
In almost all the English-speaking countries in the world, “Auld Lang Syne,” a Scottish song written by Robert Burns in the 1700s, is sung or played at the stroke of midnight. It simply means “the good old days” or “old long ago.”
Watch the weather in the early part of the new year. A south wind means fine weather and prosperous times are coming. A north wind means bad weather. An east wind blowing means famine and calamities. A west wind will mean a plentiful supply of milk and fish, but the death of a very important person. If no wind is blowing it will mean a joyous and prosperous year for all!
I guess I better make another trip to the grocery store to make sure I have my sliced, smoked hog jowl, a bag of dry black-eyed peas, rice and some greens. It may be superstitious, but I do not want to take any chances.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for the wonderful comments I receive from time to time. I am glad I’m able to share my thoughts with you all throughout the year. May 2011 bring to each of you a year filled with good health, prosperity and peace in your heart. And may there be no wind blowing on the early part of New Year’s Day!