Ace Atkins investigates New Year's Eve traditions

C-VILLE’s longest running columnist and all-around Answer Man offers some of his expert knowledge on obscure New Year’s traditions.

Dear Ace: What are some New Year’s Eve rituals and superstitions regarding luck, prosperity and health?—Spike D. Punch

Dear Spike: You’d think that Ace’s notoriously poor fortune would disqualify him from answering this question, but you’d be wrong. See, having grown up in a good Southern household like any other, Ace is well acquainted with the chalky non-taste of black-eyed peas and collard greens, which Papa Atkins insisted we munch on for dinner on the first day of every year.

According to Internet folklore, black-eyed peas gained their auspicious status during the Civil War. (Except, of course, for Fergie and Will. I. Am., both of whom remain inauspicious.) General Sherman was conducting a scorched-earth campaign across the South, destroying most crops and other available food sources. For whatever reason, however, Sherman overlooked the fields of black-eyed peas, and the bland yet nutritious bean sustained Confederate stomachs for the duration of the war. Thereafter, the black-eyed pea became a symbol for luck and prosperity, especially when supplemented with greens, cornbread or stewed tomatoes.

Another tradition has the cook add a shiny penny or dime to the pot of black-eyed peas just before dishing out the first helping, with the idea being that whoever’s bowl contains the coin will have the best luck over the following year. Funnily enough, the Greeks do about the same thing every New Year’s—which coincides with their Festival of St. Basil, one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church—by baking a silver or gold coin inside of a cake, and subsequently serving slices to multiple people. Again, whoever finds the coin wins the best fortune, although there isn’t a clear consensus as to the fate of whatever poor soul accidently eats the money.

Ace, personally, was never a fan of the black-eyed pea ritual. Nowadays, Ace takes his cues from the Spaniards, whose New Year’s practice of eating twelve grapes at midnight—one for each month of desired prosperity—jibes nicely with his Bacchanalian lifestyle.

Not all New Year’s rituals involve food. If you’re the humbug type, or you’re up for a spectacle, you can do as the Dutch do and burn your dying Christmas trees in the streets while shooting fireworks into the sky. Take that, holiday cheer!

And on the opposite end of the New Year’s ritual spectrum, you find traditions that are downright esoteric. Families of German descent, for example, might pour molten lead into boiling water, and then try to divine patterns for the coming year in the resultant shapes. Alchemical, no?

Then again, none of these tops the Brazilian custom of donning brightly colored underpants, in accordance with one’s wishes for the year ahead. Red for romance, gold for wealth…Ace never would have thought that color-coding his nether regions could influence the future, but hey, he’ll try anything once.

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