Remembering past New Year’s tradition

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Almost three weeks into the New Year, I find the well wishes of family and friends for a peaceful and prosperous New Year continue. Considering how 2021 has begun, I hear many people say they are ‘doubling down’ on continuing the traditions they celebrated to bless them with a peaceful and prosperous new year.

In the community I grew up in Washington, New Year traditions were serious matters. Each family kept the ones passed down to them religiously.

My family held onto traditions like Tevye, the main character from the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof, which in my opinion is the greatest musical of all time. Tevye was a poor Jewish milkman who lived with his family in the small Ukrainian village of Anatevka in Imperial Russia. He attempts to maintain his family’s religious and cultural traditions as the world and society changed around them. He understands how the outside influences can change their way of living and their traditions. He held on to those traditions fiercely.

My family, like so many others held fast to their traditions. Old traditions were sacred to them.

One of them was that no one could visit a house in my community on New Year’s Day until a man who did not live in the house came to the house and walked through the entire house, blessing it. Then after that, all visitors were welcomed. This tradition is said to have its roots in slavery and the Scottish tradition of ‘First Footing’ or Hogmanay.

New Year’s Day foods that we ate every year without fail were ‘Hoppin John’ (black-eyed peas, rice and pork.) Collard greens (represented money), corn bread (represented gold), fish (the hope you’d be swimming in money all year), and cake (for a sweet year).

Other traditions included taping a dollar bill over the inside of the front door or under a door mat to ensure money would be coming into the house all year long.

Our family opened the back door to let the old year out and opened the front door to let the New Year in based on an old Irish tradition.

Some people sprinkled sugar in their yards to ensure a sweet year based on a Puerto Rican tradition.

Some families made sure each family member wore new shoes on New Year’s Day to walk in added blessings in the new year.

Some families made noise with pots and pans firecrackers and whistles to scare off evil spirits who could threaten the New Year, while other families remained quiet on New Year’s Eve because they believed they would hear the animals praying.

As I look back fondly on all these traditions, this is what I do know will bring peace and prosperity this year to our hearts and souls. Being kind to one another and treating each other with dignity, grace and respect will truly bring a blessing to all.

Leesa Jones is the executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.