New Year’s Traditions and Superstitions

 

With a 2019 right on the horizon, we hope to conjure up the luckiest, healthiest, most prosperous New Year ever!  Fortunately, there are plenty of practices and traditions that can help us along the way. If you’d like to know more about the weird stuff people all over the world do to help ring in the new year, read on!

Want to ensure yourself financial freedom in 2019? Try eating some pickled herring at midnight on New Year’s Eve. This practice comes from Poland, Germany and Scandinavia. It is believed that the silver color of the fish, representing real silver, will help you acquire money.

Speaking of silver, another Slavic tradition holds that if you wash your hands with a piece of silver on New Year’s Day, you will be prosperous for the year to come. You can also fill the sink with coins and water, then wash your face with the coin saturated mix.

In Romania, it was believed that the object you have in your hand when the clock strikes midnight will indicate the most important plan of your life in the coming year.  Following this line of thinking, if you have money in your hand, you should be prosperous. If you are holding your loved one’s hand, the new year will see you happy in personal relationships. If you are toasting with a glass in your hand, your cup runneth over – it will be an all around joyful year.  If you are eating something yummy, you will never go hungry. This tradition should allow a lot of room for creativity — so pick something that is important to you personally — and grab it before midnight 🙂

The Romanians also believed that a wish you make at the stroke of midnight will most likely come true!

From the American South comes another food tradition — Hoppin’ John.  Originating from French, Caribbean and African influences, Hoppin’ John is a stew made with pork, black eyed peas and greens, said to bring good luck and prosperity.

Why is it called “Hoppin’ John”?  It is said this stew is so good that children, when being served, can’t sit still in their seats, and John “comes hopping” when his wife cooks it.  For a great Hoppin’ John recipe click HERE.

If you don’t have time to prepare the entire stew, at least take in some green food on New Year’s Day. Spinach, collard greens, kale, or green peas will do. All of them are said to represent money and ensure prosperity.

But New Year’s Eve is not all fun and games. There are many superstitions regarding bad luck as well.

On New Year’s Day, make sure nothing leaves your house. This means NOTHING, not even garbage. Putting things out of the house is indicative of rejecting possessions, so if you throw things out, you just may lose something dear to you.

It is bad luck to hang a new calendar on the wall before the new year actually begins, so wait until Jan 1st to hang your calendar.

Also to be avoided – washing clothes and washing hair. It is believed you will ‘wash out’ important things or people in your life. I once heard a story about someone who did laundry on New Years Day and had a loved one die shortly after, so take heed!

It is definitely bad luck to take your Christmas tree down before January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany.  (During this time, our ancestors were practicing the Twelve Days of Christmas — receiving partridges in a pear tree and so forth…) So leave that tree up! On New Year’s Eve, take all the gold, silver and gemstones you own, and place them under the tree. Leave them there until January 2nd. This presentation of precious metals and jewels will ensure that you will be gifted and prosperous in the year to come.

Be careful about whom you invite into your home on New Year’s Day!  In Scotland, it was believed that the first person to cross your threshold after the stroke of midnight should definitely be a tall dark handsome man.  Blondes, redheads and women were considered bad luck.  Yes, it sounds biased…  However, this belief originated in Medieval times, when Scotland was susceptible to Viking invasions. The last ones they wanted showing up on their doorsteps were blonde Scandinavian savages, armed with blades and shields.

To make things even luckier, the Scots also hold that the dark haired man ought to bring coal, salt, shortbread and whiskey – all essential elements for prosperity.

Romania, too, believed that a woman should not be your first guest on New Year’s Day. Women were considered bad luck, but men ensured good fortune. (This probably originates from back when women were expected to have a dowry in order to be wed — and men collected the dowry.) So, invite the guys over!

In Brazil,  it is traditional to throw white flowers in the ocean. These are considered an offering to the water goddess Yemoja, who is said to control the seas. Offering her flowers will ensure her blessings for the coming year.

If you are looking to have a baby in 2019, Italians hold that wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve will help. This is because the color red is a symbol of fertility. Not to mention, a pretty and sexy color too. So bring on the Victoria’s Secrets!

The Greeks have an interesting custom involving pomegranates. The pomegranate symbolizes fertility, life, and abundance. Just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, it is customary for Greeks to smash a pomegranate against the door of their house — and it is said that the number of pomegranate seeds that end up scattered is directly correlated with the amount of good luck to come.

I have heard of a custom similar to this, but the pomegranates can be scooped into your mouth, and the seeds spit out. Count your future blessings by the number of seeds you do not swallow!

Speaking of swallowing, the Russians have an unusual custom. Folks write their wishes down on a piece of paper, burn them with a candle, and drink the subsequent ashes in a glass of champagne. (Sorry Russia, this one doesn’t sound safe to me!)

Many Pagan traditions hold the custom of writing your desires on paper, burning them in a cauldron, then scattering them to the wind – thus putting all your desires out to the universe. Doing it right after the stroke of midnight is considered extremely powerful.

In Chile, necromancy takes center stage.  New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Masses are held, not in churches, but in cemeteries. It is believed that this custom literally invites the spirits of the dead to join their families in festivities.

You may have tried kissing under the mistletoe, but in Ireland they take it one step further. It is customary for single women to sleep with a mistletoe under their pillow on New Year’s Eve. The magical mistletoe will cause them to dream of, and then find, their future husbands.

In my home town of Chicago, we have our own little tradition, called “The Polar Bear Plunge”. This is organized officially by the Chicago Polar Bear Club. Each New Year’s Day, they put on bathing suits and jump in Lake Michigan. Yes, our weather here is c-c-c-cold, and this tradition is c-c-c-crazy. However, Polar Bear Plungers do it for a good reason. Each swimmer recruits sponsors to pay him/ her money for this bravery, and then the money is given to people in need. Since its initial plunge in 2001, the Club has raised over $270,000!

Whatever you do this New Year’s Eve, have a safe, loving and healthy celebration!

Happy 2019!

 

 

 

 

 

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Halloween Countdown: Soul Cakes

 

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“A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Mistress, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.”  — Soul Cake Song

 
Long before trick-or-treaters donned masks and Halloween became an international franchise, our Medieval ancestors had a different (and much more solemn) way of celebrating.  During these festivities, poor children went door to door, begging for cakes or bread in a tradition called ‘Souling’.

The basic idea was, you give the kid a cake and he or she says a prayer for one of your dead relatives. It was a win/win situation: a charitable donation for accumulated prayers.

Although Halloween/Samhain was originally a Pagan festival, when the Roman Church grew to power in the 4th century, it (like so many other Pagan celebrations) was hijacked and morphed to fit church traditions.

Hallowtide festivities in the Middle Ages took place over a period of three days, beginning on October 31 and ending on November 2. Three different holidays were  celebrated during this time.

All Hallows Eve (October 31st) was a day to honor deceased relatives.  It was customary to go to the graveyard, bring offerings of ‘soul cakes’ and wine, and commune with the dead, as veils to the otherworld were lifted. Visitors would light candles or bonfires and ring bells to help attract surreal  entities.

Joža Uprka

All Saints Day (November 1st) was a day to honor saints, while All Souls Day (November 2nd) paid tribute to ALL the souls of the departed.  On All Souls day, children would go door to door hoping to receive soul cakes.  Whenever you gave a child a cake, he or she then had an obligation to say a prayer or sing a song for one of your deceased relatives — who just might be doing time in Purgatory, waiting to enter heaven.

By giving out soul cakes, you could get extra prayers for your loved ones, thus keeping them from the clutches of Satan.

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First recorded in the 5th century, the tradition of giving soul cakes continued on in some parts of England as late as the 1890’s.

So, what exactly was a soul cake?

Soul cakes took many different shapes and sizes. In some areas, they were simple shortbread, and in others they were baked as fruit-filled tarts. Some were an early form of French toast, making use of stale or day old bread to be given to the poor.  Ingredients, of course, were used according to what was most available in the community.

If you’d like to try your own hand a whipping up some soul cakes for Halloween, here are a few recipes.

This one dates all the way back to 1350!

TRADITIONAL SOUL BREAD

6 large dinner rolls
2 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup currants
1 tsp. ground ginger and cinnamon combined
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of saffron

Grind saffron, mix with butter and set aside. Cut centers out of rolls to make a little bowl, reserving removed breadcrumbs. Mix eggs, currants, butter mixture, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Pour over breadcrumbs (which preferably has been dried out first) and stir carefully until all bread is evenly coated. Stuff rolls with mixture. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a large pan and bring it to boil. Then put in the rolls, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes with the pan tightly covered. Remove immediately from water with a slotted spoon and serve hot.

Source: Curye on Inglish. Middle English recipes
Oxford University Press.

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If you’d like a more modern recipe, try these:

PIE CRUST SOUL CAKES

You’ll need:

  • A refrigerated roll-out pie crust
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 C mixed dried fruit
  • 2 Tbs honey

Roll out the pie crust and cut it into circles. Use the circles to line a tin of muffin cups. Mix the butter, fruit and honey together. Scoop the fruit mixture into the pastry shells, and then bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow to cool for about ten minutes before eating.

Source: Recipes for Halloween

Your trick or treaters will no doubt be delighted!

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On the other hand, parents will be suspicious of anything hand made and not wrapped… so you may want to keep your soul treats all to yourself 🙂

And finally! For your listening pleasure, here is a lovely version of the Soul Cake Song, performed in Medieval ballad style by Kristen Lawrence. Hope you enjoy it!

Happy Souling!