Do you follow in the footsteps of your parents in bringing in the New Year? Those from my era recall that our parents did specific things on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. So let us look at things that may not have been on your radar recently but were routinely performed by our parents, back in the day.
New Year’s Eve is one of those occurrences that vividly illustrate how strong family traditions of the past were but have become faint memories for some. Do you recall your parents emphasizing the importance of having all bills current by the start of the New Year? If you started the New Year with unpaid bills, it was believed that you would continue the year in this manner. On the other hand, parents insisted that we have money in our pockets or pocketbooks when the New Year arrived. According to “old-timers,” if you had no money on the first day of the year, you would have no money for the entire year. Hopefully, you had a few dollars in your pocket at midnight.
My mother made sure that things were in order before the New Year arrived. This meant our dirty clothing was laundered and our home neat and clean. This was an absolute must! My mother gave as much attention to dirty clothing and our home’s appearance as the preparation of New Year’s Day dinner. According to my mother, dirty clothing and an unkempt home meant bad luck. Not only did the clothing have to be washed, but it also had to be ironed, folded and put away.
Back in the day, it was also a belief of our parents and grandparents that a man had to be the first person entering their home after midnight on New Year’s Day. This practice would bring good luck. The man entering could not be someone who lived in your household. Many frequently made arrangements with friends or neighbors for a man to visit their home. A co-worker recently told me that she once waited hours outside of her grandmother’s home until a man came to visit. Given the movement for equal rights and opportunities for women, I doubt if this tradition has found its way into current practices. Many men fail to have good luck themselves; you wonder how they could bring good luck to a home.
For those who grew up back in the day, the image of our mothers preparing black-eyed peas is memorable. According to our ancestors, this brought good luck. Before I knew anything about the change from one year to another, I knew the tradition and significance of black-eyed peas. The practice was to have black-eyed peas cooking when the New Year arrived. If you visit any household on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day and find black-eyed peas on the stove or table, you can bet that the homeowners are from back in the day.
Other dishes fall into the category of traditional New Year’s foods. Collard greens with hog maw are a popular dish. I understand from some back-in-the-day aficionados, that collard greens represent money. Of course, there were chitterlings. I could never forget chitterlings! On New Year’s Eve, I was driven out of our home, not because I had done something wrong but because my mother insisted that they be on our New Year’s Day menu. I could not stand the smell. While I loved my mother’s cooking, there was nothing about chitterlings, or “wrinkled steak” as some called them, that appealed to me. To this day, I wonder how the intestines of a pig, with or without vinegar or hot sauce, could appeal to anyone. Yet, there are some today who must have chitterlings around this time of the year, just as your grandparents and parents did. There is nothing more precious than observing friends who have “arrived,” enjoying their chitterlings on New Year’s Day. Such returning to one’s roots is precious. You know the old saying, “You can take the boy out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the boy.” With a plate full of chitterlings, remember that you can take some brothers and sisters out of the hood but you cannot take some of the traditions of the hood out of the brothers and sisters. The taste and love for chitterlings are fond memories from back in the day.
You may recall that church attendance on New Year’s Eve was expected; it was a ritual instilled in us by our parents and instilled in them by their parents. Unfortunately, this has not been embraced by many today. Even before COVID, services were not like those in years past. Many churches do not even refer to New Year’s Eve service as Watch Night Service as once was the case. I doubt if anyone experienced the preacher designating one male member as the Watchman. Nor, do I suspect that the preacher asked, “Watch man, Watch man, what time is it,” a tradition that can be traced back to gatherings on Dec. 31, 1862, also known as “Freedom’s Eve?” Definitely not, as this practice has been left far back in the day.
As we start the New Year, let us reach back and share with our loved ones some of the traditions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that have made many of us the people we are today. Our children could benefit from the sharing of these traditions. They are a part of “our story.” Let us constantly demonstrate and remind by example, those traditions that had a profound impact on our behavior. Let us show the love and respect that were part of our everyday way of life. Let this be a major resolution, so that we can return to those positive practices from back in the day.
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