I was born and raised in the American South, so of course I was taught to eat black eyed peas on New Years Day to ensure a happy and prosperous upcoming year. Is this the tradition you were raised with, Dear Reader, or is there some other food ritual you feel you must follow to start the year off right?
Many cultures bring in the year by eating fish. The Chinese eat a whole steamed fish, the Italians eat salt cod, the Polish have a picked herring at midnight. While the Poles are enjoying their herring, at midnight Spaniard eats 12 grapes, one for each month of the upcoming year. The Danes like their stewed kale with cinnamon, which will bring them prosperity, and the Austrians eat roast suckling pig for progress, as well as little pigs made of marzipan. The Japanese eat shrimp for long life.
In Scotland, the New Year celebration, or Hogmanay, is a bigger deal than Christmas.
In preparation for the big event, people spend several days beforehand redding the household, which involves cleaning the place from top to bottom. When the bells ring bells ring in the year at midnight, one greets the year on his feet, for good health, with a coin in his pocket, for wealth, and a glass of whiskey in his hand, for good times. After the bells have rung, the first person to cross your threshold will set your luck for the year. This is called first footing, and for good luck, you want to make sure that the first foot across your threshold belongs to a black-haired man, and not a blond, or, heaven forfend, a red haired woman! The first footer will bring a present of coal for the hearth, a black bun* or shortbread, and of course a drink of whiskey, and the householder will always have food for her guests.
In the morning comes the saining, or blessing of the house. A burning juniper branch is carried around so that its smoke can purify the house and all its inhabitants. Boughs of rowan are placed over the lintel for luck, and a sprig of holly to keep out the faeries.
A lot of drink is involved, and a lot of good cheer, and of course a toast to auld lang syne.
So here’s a hand my trusty fiere
And gie’s a hand o thine
And we’ll take a right guid willie waught*,
for auld lang syne.
Have a happy and prosperous 2012!
*A black bun is a pastry filled with raisins and currants, almonds and citrus peel, flour sugar allspice, ginger cinnamon, black pepper, baking powder, egg, brandy or whiskey, and milk. It looks like a tall pie, and is aged for several weeks, like a fruitcake.
*A willie waught is a good slug of spirits, always a good way to start the new year