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home : opinion : opinion January 31, 2023

12/30/2022 8:49:00 AM
Happy New Year!

L. Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

A Puerto Rican friend told me years ago that I should sweep the floor on New Year's Eve and put any dust I sweep in a glass and set it behind my front door.  Then take the glass and toss the dust on New Year's morning--throwing out all the bad from the old year to make room for the good in the new one. 

Everyone in these parts knows about the New Year's Shooters.  In addition to their firing of their muskets, many celebrate the arrival of the new year with fireworks.  The dropping of the ball in New York City is a long-standing tradition (it began in 1907); and in Lincolnton, we have the Apple Drop on the southeast Courtsquare.

The ancient Babylonians celebrated the beginning of a new year in the Spring in a festival known as Akitu.

The Romans initially also celebrated the new year in the Spring--at the time of the vernal equinox, when the length of night and day are almost equal. Julius Caesar moved New Year's Day from the first of the month Martius (now March) to the beginning of January when he implemented a 12-month, 365-day calendar in 45 B.C. The Roman name for the month, Janus, was that of a two-faced deity, so the month and the celebration of a new year looked back on the old and forward to the new.

The ancient Egyptians celebrated the new year in July, just before the annual flooding of the Nile River.

There was an ancient Persian new year's festival known as Nowruz, which happens in the Spring and is still celebrated by some in Iran.

Most readers are surely aware of the Lunar New Year, still celebrated in Chinese culture. The holiday typically falls in late January or early February on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Each year is associated with one of 12 zodiacal animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This year, the Chinese New Year will be on January 22nd, and the year ahead will be the year of the Rabbit. It's a 15-day festival that includes a week-long vacation and ends with the annual Lantern Festival, this year on February 5th.

Eating certain foods on New Year's Day is a tradition that varies by culture. In our area, blackeyed peas and collard greens, usually served with cornbread, are traditional. In South Carolina's low country and some other locations, the peas are mixed with rice and pork in hoppin' john. In Louisiana, the year begins with the king cakes that have become synonymous with Mardi Gras celebrations. A plastic baby is baked inside the cake and the person who finds it is 'king' or 'queen' for the day--but also the one responsible for the next year's king cake. While they are often enjoyed as part of the Mardi Gras celebration, they are traditionally eaten at Epiphany (January 6th).

For some Mexicans or with Mexican ancestry, tamales are an important part of the New Year's celebration.

In Japan, toshikoshi soba, a soup with buckwheat noodles, is traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve.

In Spain, a custom that began in the late 19th century, is eating a dozen grapes at midnight. Most everywhere else, the grapes are enjoyed in a different form--champagne.

Lentils are traditional New Year's fare in Italy and some parts of the Middle East. Pickled herring is a traditional New Year's food in Scandinavia. While we eat blackeyed peas, collard greens, cornbread and sometimes cabbage, in parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, the traditional New Year's meal includes pork and sauerkraut.

For many years, on New Year's Day, I enjoyed chitterlings with my best friend and his family--but he moved to Florida and I've had them only once since at another friend's home. I was happy to see that while they have been hard to find, some local supermarkets are stocking them again. They take too long to clean and prepare for me to do it myself, so I'll just have to wait until another friend invites me to join in their celebration. For now, I got my blackeyed peas, my cabbage, and I'll pick up some already made cornbread--plus I'll have some collards from a can (not as good, but they also take too long to prepare myself, and they stink up the house, too).
Whatever your New Year's custom, here's hoping that 2023 will be a good one for you. Happy New Year!

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