Tahlequah Daily Press

December 31, 2012

New Year’s customs observed worldwide

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Though it’s common for people around the world to gather and mark the end of a year and the beginning of another, the custom or traditional activity used to denote the transition can vary from country to country.

And what is eaten for good luck also creates an interesting menu of food items.

In America, it’s common for people to share a countdown to midnight, kiss a romantic partner at the strike of midnight and then sing the 1788 Scots poem written by Robert Burns, “Auld Lang Syne.”

Just as the kiss was born out of superstition to ensure the new year isn’t experienced without love, popping the cork on a bottle of champagne is done for similar reasons in beginning the year by setting a festive and prosperous tone, according to online descriptions about common American New Years traditions.

The following day, or Jan. 1 of the new year, it’s customary to eat a special food that, by tradition, will bring good luck. For example, eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is believed to bring prosperity, according to the southern culture of the United States.

Marta Franks, who responded to the Daily Press’ Facebook post about the New Year’s Day meal practice, shares a serving of the pale-colored and black spotted legume, and noted that a taste of the denizen born in a lake, pond, river or ocean is also included.

“Growing up we always had black-eyed peas, hog jowl, and some sort of fish - usually fish sticks,” she said. “My grandma would fix these every Jan. 1. We would also never take down any of the Christmas decorations until after the first. Grandma said it was bad luck to take them down before the first.”

Holly Jacob eats a portion of black-eyed peas, too.

“We always have our black-eyed peas,” she said. “So we may be blessed with luck all year long.”

To ensure good fortune both financially and romantically, pork is added to the recipe Monica Smith enjoys on New Year’s Day.

“We always have black-eyed peas with bacon for love and luck,” she said.

Melissa Bethancourt opts for the southern-style of black-eyed peas, as far as recipes go, especially since it delivers a pep in the step for the new year. She said luck is found in the place and food her family shares.

“My children never liked black-eyed peas on their own. So I make black-eyed peas with onion, rice, bacon, and Louisiana hot sauce,” she said. “We call it ‘Hoppin John.’ I don’t know if it brings us luck, but it fills our bellies with homemade warmth. My children also never liked cooked cabbage. We make coleslaw for money. We haven’t won the lottery yet, but we always have a roof over our heads and food to eat.”

Another example is eating ham or pork. Hundreds of years ago in Europe, wild boars were captured and slaughtered on the first day of the year to provide the “luckiest thing to eat on New Year’s Day,” per FoodTimeLine.com. Another detail that explains why eating ham or pork is lucky is due to the pig using its snout to dig in the ground in a forward direction. New Englanders are said to combine sauerkraut with their pork, while Germans and Swedes living in the U.S. have been said to have cabbage as a side dish to ham in order to ensure good luck.

Some other online descriptions of New Year’s customs practiced around the globe include Australians spending the day having picnics and camping on a beach. Just before midnight, loud noise is created with whistles, car horns and church bells to welcome in the new year in Australia.

A Belgian practice to mark New Year’s Eve, or Saint Sylvester Eve, has people throwing parties, sharing midnight kisses and exchanging good luck greetings.

On New Year’s Day, children write letters, which are later read to the recipients, on decorated paper to their parents and god parents.

The Great Britain custom is the first footing, which says the first male visitor to the house after midnight is believed to bring good luck. The man is expected to bring a gift of money, bread or coal to ensure that the home’s family will have plenty of the particular item brought in the year to come.

In Germany, it is said that people drop molten lead into cold water to reveal their future from the shape the process produces. Also, a portion of food eaten on New Year’s Eve is left on the plate until after midnight to ensure a well-stocked larder, or cool food-storage area.