Seeing the old year out the back, while welcoming the new

Published 12:19 pm Monday, January 2, 2023

In the community I grew up in during my Washington childhood, New Year traditions were serious matters. Each family kept the ones passed down to them from prior generations 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 front door or under a door mat to ensure money would be coming in 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.

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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 fire crackers, whistles, and pots and pans 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.

‘Watch Night’ or New Year’s Eve services at most churches were well attended.  As an adult, I still look forward to going to New Year’s Eve services. After church service, my family and I go home to a big meal with all the traditional foods and we play board games for the rest of the night.

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.  I love talking about and sharing these old traditions, some of them are fun.  But it is time we started new traditions especially in our communities where we can celebrate and learn from others.

I hope this new year sees us coming together and sharing new ideas and ways we can celebrate our greater Washington/Beaufort County community.

Many blessings for a happy, safe, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.