Traditions That Make You Feel Good


As 40somethings raising kids, we seem to have finally outgrown celebrating the start of the new year by getting real drunk and staying up late. We still stay up past midnight as a matter of pride, but we’ve slowly shifted the emphasis to New Year’s Day festivities, which include eating traditional meals, plus discussing the highlights of the previous year and hopes for the new one. In other words, we focus on traditions that make us feel good, not hungover.

Growing up in New Mexico, it was instilled in me that it's absolutely necessary to eat posole on January 1. And since my ancestors moved to New Mexico from Arkansas and other southern locales, it's also imperative that everyone in my family eat at least one bite of black-eyed peas on Jan. 1 to secure good luck for the new year. A few years I made a cheesecake or lemon tart for New Year's Day, hiding one almond in the pie. This is another good luck token, which I must have read about somewhere along the line. I find these traditions, almost always related to food and celebrations, to be fascinating, and I hope lots of you readers will share your traditions in the comments.

Along those lines, The New York Times put up a fun slideshow about new year's traditions from around the globe.

The highlights of 2008 for all of us were the outcome of the election and various family trips we took. Bruce loved NYC, Kindy enjoyed a couple of overnights in San Francisco, and Arlo loved spending a week hiking and swimming on the Eel River. That reminded me of one of my highlights -- seeing an albino redwood tree during a hike on that trip.

As for aspirations in 2009, Arlo, who's 6, started the conversation by saying, "I hope we do lots and lots of yoga!" This was interesting to the rest of the family; as far as any of us know, Arlo’s only ever done yoga once in his short life, but it apparently made a big impression. Kindy, 13, wanted the self-absorbed things you’d expect from a teen: a winning basketball team at school and more free time, less homework. I wanted to take more hikes and go to the beach more often, which I'm pretty sure is my declaration almost every year. Bruce was the most selfless: he hoped for fewer wars in the world, and more peaceful times for everyone. Amen to that.

--Shawn (image courtesy of Susan Beal)

(Shawn Connally and Bruce Stewart are guest bloggers)


  1. “Albino Redwood”?

    That’s a first. Never knew they did that. You’d think with all the trees around we might have seen a few more.

  2. Albinism in plants is not that uncommon. Since they can’t photosynthesize, they can’t survive. In the case of redwoods, they send up many shoots from the base of a mature tree and can live off the communal root system.

  3. Funny thing about the black-eyed peas… in Brazil, everybody absolutely must eat lentils on New Year’s Eve.

    What’s the correlation between beans and good luck? I don’t mind eating them because I love lentils, but really don’t understand what one thing has to do with another.

  4. shawnbruce, can i just say im absolutely loving your posts. they’re witty, interesting, and consistently seem to bring a smile to my face. keep up the good work!

  5. We have a traditional homemade Southern meal of ham, greens w/ham hocks & onion and a vinegar based hot sauce, black-eyed peas with bacon & brown sugar, corn bread, pulled pork and kraut, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes.

    You don’t get no luck less you eat some fat with your peas. Eating greens, usually turnip, brings money. The ham means you won’t go hungry. The hot sauce is similar to an Eastern Carolina Bug Juice used on bar-b-q along with a vinegar based slaw.

    You haven’t had cornbread until you’ve had my wife’s and remember white vinegar is only good for cleaning the kitchen.

  6. I was raised in south central PA and I’ve never celebrated a new year without pork and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes. Now that I live in NC I’m told to eat black eye peas and collards for luck. I tried to eat some of each for all possible luck and literally blasted my way into the new year :)

  7. I, too, like Dawn, lived in PA for many of my formative years, and Pennsylvanians love their pork (hot dogs mostly) for New Years to bring luck in the new year. Now, I live in Georgia and everyone, I mean EVERYONE here has to have their collard greens and black-eyed peas. And they look at you like you’re crazy if you don’t eat it for New Year’s.

    I’ve never been big on celebrating New Year’s, but once again I found myself downing copious amounts of champagne, and making a resolution to never do that again.

  8. Over the years my favorite tradition associated with the New Year is my friend Dave’s New Year’s Eve Eve party. When midnight rolls around, everyone shouts “Happy New Year’s Eve!”
    I started making glögg for the occasion five years ago now; but seeing all the friends who will scatter to different New Year’s Eve parties the next day is what makes the occasion for me.

  9. I third the pork & sauerkraut meal. I never knew if it was a tradition of the whole area (Southeastern PA, near Allentown), or just for my family, since my grandparents are Pennsylvania Dutch.

    I don’t know if it brings me any luck, and I still haven’t learned to enjoy the taste of sauerkraut, but I enjoy having a tradition and a meal with the extended family on New Year’s Day.

  10. My family is of Hungarian descent and we always celebrated with my Grandmother’s Hungarian-style stuffed cabbage. Thankfully, Grandmom passed her recipe on to me and I now spend teh day making it for the family. It’s a lot of work, but always delicious.

  11. Uncle Max,

    I grew up in Mercersburg which is very close the Mason Dixon line. Pork and kraut is very popular in the area, even used for fundraisers.

    No cjamesatl, we didn’t use hotdogs! It’s farming country honey, we used real hog!

    The best way to cook kraut is to add an apple and a few caraway seeds. Promise you’ll like it!

    A fond memory of my youth is when it was raining the neighbor gal and I were allowed to play in the basement. Her Mother made her own kraut and kept it down there in huge crocks with plates weighted with rocks to submerge the cabbage. I was always fascinated at how bad it smelled, how wildly it bubbled as it fermented AND that people actually ate the stuff!

  12. I did some crazy stuff this year, but I can’t say it involved eating “posole on January 1”! Is this 2009 already? Wow, what happened?


  13. My mother always made me eat black eyed peas on New Years day. I hate black eyed peas. I detest them. They make me gag. She’d always make me eat at least one, though. I’d usually try to mix it up with mashed potatoes or something else we were eating so I couldn’t taste it as much. I still could, though. The last few years I haven’t been to my parents for New Years so I’ve gotten out of having to eat them. Hopefully that has nothing to do with me being unemployed. Oh well, if things don’t turn around this year, I’ll try to force myself to eat some next New Years.

  14. In Hawaii, we (well…everybody except me…smile) pops firecrackers. When I was a kid, “town” (waikiki/honolulu) looked like a battle zone. Because of the danger of fire, the sale of explosives is now regulated. Still…we are garaunteed lots of noice on New Years Eve. This past New Year’s Eve, our 5 month old pitpull/pointer spent hours hidden behind the couch, however, our (panther sized) black cat was out and about, roaming the neighborhood. Our parrot was busy immitating (and adding to) all the noise.

    On the Jewish New Year (which falls in Sept/Tishrei) Jews eat slices of apple dipped in honey. This is to insure a sweet new year. Also…they do not eat nuts as the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “nut” is equivalent to the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “sin”

  15. In Hawaii, we (well…everybody except me…smile) pops firecrackers. When I was a kid, “town” (waikiki/honolulu) looked like a battle zone. Because of the danger of fire, the sale of explosives is now regulated. Still…we are garaunteed lots of noice on New Years Eve. This past New Year’s Eve, our 5 month old pitpull/pointer spent hours hidden behind the couch, however, our (panther sized) black cat was out and about, roaming the neighborhood. Our parrot was busy immitating (and adding to) all the noise.

    On the Jewish New Year (which falls in Sept/Tishrei) Jews eat slices of apple dipped in honey. This is to insure a sweet new year. Also…they do not eat nuts as the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “nut” is equivalent to the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “sin”

  16. @MightyMouse: aw shucks, you’re making us blush! Seriously, it’s a great forum for discussion and we’re loving every minute of it!

  17. A local radio DJ did just this same topic on New Years Eve and he’d done a lot of research into why some of these foods are important on New Years. Here’s some of what he said.

    For Beans and lentils, he believed it had something to do with the old saying “Eat poor on New Year’s and eat fat the rest of the year.”

    He said he’d heard the reason Pork is considered good luck on New Years is because when pigs forage for food, they always walk forward. So by eating pork, your looking forward to the new year, which is good luck. Or something like that.

    He had a similar one for Lobster. Many consider Lobster a bad luck food on New Years, and this guy said he’d heard it was because Lobsters walk backwards, which is related to it being bad luck to lament about the past year.

  18. For us, Jewish people, every holiday is an excuse for a really big feast. On the New Jewish Year, we eat several “blessings” – small dishes that symbolise some of the blessings we wish to get this year. The blessings are part of the Jewish tradition, the food itself differs from one ethnic group to another.

    After 2000 years of exile blah blah blah, we wish ourself “to have as many rights as the pomegranate seeds”. That’s for Jewish that came from Europe (Ashkenazim). Coming from a family that its origins are from Syria and from Jerusalem (at least for the last 9 or 10 generations), we bless “to have as many rights as the black eyed peas” and instead of eating pomegranate, we eat black eyed peas, that we call “Lubya”. Although it is possible to buy black eye peas all around the year, we only eat it twice a year – in New Year and in Passover. In between, we just drool and wait.

    Or perhaps my origin is not from Syria but from Mexico?

  19. Nice! The “focus on the family” in these posts takes me back to when bOING bOING was just a counterculture zine.

  20. I’ll stick with the big shot of vodka to keep the wolf from the door and the three little shots just in case she had cubs while she was out there.

  21. Black eyed peas! I knew I forgot to do something this new year’s. Umm… new tradition- black eyed peas on Inauguration Day?

  22. You seem like a lovely family with many great experiences and interests. I’m curious, though…do you see the phrase “self-absorbed” as a neutral or as a negative? If you see it as a neutral descriptor, I’m surprised (I’ve generally heard it used with a negative connotation), but accept that. If you see it as a negative, though, why would you try shaming your teen in such a public forum for focusing on herself rather than having happy glowing wishes for the world. In fact, other than Bruce, everyone’s aspirations could be seen as “self-absorbed.” Sorry to be a grump…there’s just something that strikes me as so judgmental about that phrase.

    I do wish everyone has a happy, healthy New Year! I hope to be less judgmental myself this year, though looking at this post, I guess I’m not off to a great start.

  23. Of course she’s self-absorbed, she IS the center of the universe. Don’t ya know nuthin? ;)

  24. Well, I’m a Southerner, so we serve blackeyed peas. But I’m also from Texas, and many of us have a tradition of eating tamales for good luck, too.

  25. Hmmm, I wonder if the black-eyed peas tradition is related to the Italian tradition of eating lentils. In Italy, you must eat as many lentils as possible on New Year’s Eve (or possibly New Year’s Day) — the more lentils, the more money/luck you’ll have in the year.

    Also, red underwear is very important. Between Christmas and New Years, all the outdoor stalls sell loads of red underwear.

  26. @DrJen: I don’t think you sound grumpy, I think it’s a fair question. In this instance, I’m using “self-absorbed” as a neutral descriptor, since this is where most teens are in development. I was the exact same way when I was a teen (my bad-hair day could wreak havoc on the entire household) and I accept that I’ll have to live with at least 2 teens as I raise my kids. I showed the post to Kindy and he was fine with it; maybe we’re raising a teen with self-awareness as well as self-absorption?! :-) And both my kids know that if I didn’t think it would bore the pants off everyone, all my posts would include cute pics of my boys and I’d only talk about how great they both are. Anyway, thanks for asking! Happy New Year!

  27. I combine all of the traditional foods into New Years Day dinner. One can never have too much good luck. From my German ancestors I got pork and cabbage and also herring. Then I make some “hoppin’ john” which is a southern dish with rice and black eyed peas. No matter how hung over they are the kids always come over for their dose of good luck food. My youngest daughter did discover this year that pickled herring and a hangover are not a good combination.

  28. I love that you named your kid Arlo! That is awesome.

    Did Guthrie influence it, or was it something else?

  29. I was told growing up that the black-eyed peas were supposed to represent coins and the greens stood for folding money. (I never questioned the ham.) The meal is supposed to bring you wealth in the new year. If you eat leftover hoppin’ john the next day it is called “skippin’ jenny”. Jenny also brings you wealth, through the more practical means of not letting good food go to waste.

    A word about the cheesecake with an almond in it: this sounds like a King Cake! This is a cake with a bean baked into it (or a little plastic toy baby, which I can’t help but think must be outgassing into the cake). The person who gets the thingee in their slice is king for the length of the festivities; they are also responsible for next year’s cake.

  30. My family are Scottish immigrants to the US. The NYT slideshow nailed the first-footing tradition,which my mom observes religiously. As I’ve gotten older and tired of the amateur-hour scene that is bars on NYE, I’ve returned to my grandmother’s NYE rituals: clean the house thoroughly and pay all the bills before midnight; at midnight open all the windows and doors to flush out the old year and usher the new year in. The cool fresh air through the house is a wonderful sensory cue that the old year is gone and a new year has arrived.

  31. We write things we want to be rid of on paper and burn them in our New Year’s fire before midnight.
    We had lots of papers to burn this year.

    Here’s hoping 2009 will be better.
    Happy New Year!

  32. Dawn @14:
    “The best way to cook kraut is to add an apple and a few caraway seeds. Promise you’ll like it!”
    I will definitely have to give this a try, because I can’t imagine making kraut much worse, so it’s got to be an improvement! :)

  33. 12 grapes for my family, growing up in Texas. If you waited too long to go to the store, you made do with raisins.

  34. As we are not christians we have moved most of the trad christmas stuff to New Year’s Day, except for the stockings which we all do for each other now the kids are big, but we have ‘main’gifts on new years day. Our friends’ (not twins) kids share the day as their birthday so there is always a major thrash for adults and kids round at their place.
    Although we are scots we dont really do hogmanay, but do enjoy our new years day.
    The only resolutions worth the name are the ones you are capable of keeping. So for the past few years they have been things like: seeing more of my pals, giving in to (small amounts of) any food urges, being positive about the imperfections in us all, avoiding diets and gyms like the plague in favour of nice beach walks and more raspberries.

  35. I spent all day trying to find some Black Eyed Peas. After the 3rd store I checked came up empty I made my way to the less ethnic side of town and sure enough I found some.

    Everybody is in need of some luck this year.

  36. @35 ShawnBruce…Thanks for the reply…and sorry about my pronoun error above. I will say, I had an absolutely spectacular day at work today, and I think starting the day with a focus on “traditions that make you feel good” helped me be in an amazing frame of mind!

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