Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m excited about the New Year; 2010 ended on the upbeat for me and I have great plans to keep the Big Mo rolling.  I don’t particularly remember what my plans and resolutions were for 2010 but I know writing my first novel certainly was definitely not one of them.  Given that, it’s quite obvious that publishing my first novel in the same year wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. 

Hmmm…. is that an old expression best reserved for references to making babies?  Twinkle in the eye? To hell with it, I’m using it because… well, because I’m too lazy right now to go back and change it.  I have things to do and a ham to cook.

My friend and fellow author Kathleen Valentine wrote in Facebook today that her home is filled with the smell of sauerkraut. That sure wouldn’t be anything that tickles my culinary fancy or tugs at my heartstrings but then I saw other folks responded to her post, all saying they were doing the same.  I’m from Chicago and that’s a city rich in cultural holiday traditions but I never heard about the sauerkraut tradition before… not even from my Polish sister-in-law or any of my German friends.  And just to layer on my cultural bona fides,  let me add my novel is so ethnic in various spots that I can boast I have a character in January Moon named Stanley Poiczyvoyczkym (Py-chee-voy-kim, which is something like “Smith” in Chicago). How many people can boast that?

Kathleen is from Pennsylvania and I asked her if eating sauerkraut was a family tradition on New Year’s Day. Kathleen said it was and that she ate it every New Year’s Day of her life. I’ll quote her further:

“My mother would roll over in her grave if we didn’t eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. When I lived in Texas my ex always had to have black-eyed peas and I always had sauerkraut. It made for an interesting meal.”

Black-eyed peas? 

Now I’m not stupid; I know if Pennsylvania is a nation removed from Chicago (which it is, trust me) that Texas is in a whole other galaxy — so I’m not going to claim any surprise about what they do in the Lone Star state. Frankly, nothing coming out of Texas could surprise me.  (See, if I had a publicist she’d be apoplectic right about now: “Oh my God! Now how the hell are we going to sell your books in Texas!?” Is this one of the benefits of being indie? Naw, it’s probably one of the downsides – you know, that I don’t have someone running herd on me.)

So, anyway, this started me thinking about the New Year’s traditions – which were really superstitions — in my own family.

My father insisted we eat herring on New Year’s Eve. It was supposed to assure good health. He never claimed this was an Irish tradition and we weren’t Norwegian, so I have no idea why he labored under such burden but eat herring we did. My mother always insisted it was good luck to have a tall man with dark hair be the first person to cross our threshold New Year’s Day. Specifically, it would keep us safe. She and my aunts and grandmother always said this was an Irish custom. If the right sort of man didn’t seem forthcoming my mother solved the problem (thus preserving our family) by shoving my dad out the back door and making him re-enter through the front.  Being over 6’ tall and at least originally in possession of dark hair, he did nicely in a pinch. I can’t imagine why such a tradition/superstition ever arose in Ireland except that maybe the place was overflowing with short, red-haired men, thus making the tall ones with dark hair seem more “lucky” to find — like pots o’gold and leprechauns.   

Ya’ think? Your guess is as good as mine.

Then there’s my Bohemian mother-in-law who makes everyone in the family put money (coins) in the window wells. This, she assures us with great solemnity, guarantees prosperity (not that any of us have ever really seen any, mind you).

What do I do?

Well, here’s how it’s worked for me:  first, I always feed the herring to the cats and they feel prosperous, then I double bolt the doors to make sure no strange men of any hair color sneak in and this makes me feel safe and, finally, I’ve decided to keep my hard-working Bohemian husband because he always seems to have a few coins in his pockets and that means I don’t need to worry about the windows.    

Did I mention that I’m feeling pretty smug with myself lately?

Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to continue the conversation, I have to cut it short… if I don’t cook that ham I first mentioned I’m afraid my legs might grow together.

3 Comments

  1. Kathleen says:

    Sauerkraut on New Year’s Day has been a tradition in my family for generations. I think many Pennsylvania Dutch folks maintain that tradition. You can read about it and see some pictures on my cookbook’s blog. Of course, it helps if you have home-made kraut and plenty of beer to go with it.

    My ex (in Texas) came from south Texas and the people there ate ham and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. His mother would cook up a big pot along with cornbread and it was delicious. His grandmother who was from Czechoslovakia had an off little pastry filled with jam that she made on New Years, too. Other southerners I know of eat “Hoppin John” which is a lethal combination of black-eyed peas, smoked ham hocks, a variety of hot peppers and rice. The peppers will keep you hoppin’ for sure.

    Happy 2011!

  2. I lived in Nashville for seven years. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, meant you would have a good new year. It probably is a Southern tradition. Enjoyed your post. It made me laugh and we all need that.

  3. Maureen Gill says:

    Glad to hear it made you laugh! As it was intended… !

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