Take a leap of faith and begin this wondrous new year by believing.
Sarah Ban Breathnach, from Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy
Blessings and more blessings to you!
Welcome to the Tarot Year of the Emperor card – a time during which we will be dealing with matters of power, structure, and authority, just to name a few.
I’ll be writing much more about what this means in a separate post in the days to come.
(I know many of my colleagues have already explored this in detail, but I am on my annual New Year’s retreat, so I hope by the time I get a chance, it won’t be old hat!)
But meantime, here is what you might want to know about this happy day, for it is certainly one that is full of lore and ancient custom.
As I wrote yesterday, everything you do on this day has magical implications for the coming year.
So don’t throw anything out (even the trash), or lend money or pay bills.
If you must carry something out, be sure to bring something else in first, preferably a coin or cash you concealed outside last night!
Since whatever we do on this day will be repeated throughout the year, I like to make New Year’s Day an ideal day, and do a little of all the things I most want to enjoy in the coming year.
For instance, it is good luck to do a little bit of work on the first day of the year, as long as you enjoy and are successful at whatever it is. But more than a token amount of work today is very unlucky.
Which is another reason why I will hold off on the rather large task of writing my Card of the Year till later.
Also, I will not be doing any laundry today, lest someone I love be ‘washed away’ (die) in the upcoming months. The more cautious warn against even washing dishes, which is just fine with me.
Naturally, I will wear something new, to ensure that new clothes will be coming my way in the new year, and, just like my mama taught me, I will be speaking only sweet words.
A Little History
New Year’s, as we now celebrate it, comes from the Romans, who moved the New Year from Spring Equinox to January in 153 BCE and celebrated with six days of carousing and rejoicing, ending just as the Twelve Days of Christmas do, on January 6.
They got drunk, wore disguises, and kept their tables laden with food all night long to ensure plenty in the coming year (and perhaps to appease the Fates).
If the celebrations of this evening become sometimes riotous or rowdy, it is worth remembering that the mysterious crack between one year and another is best leaped rather than crawled over.
from The Celtic Spirit: Daily Meditations for the Turning Year
Too bad Boniface, visiting from England in 742 C.E., didn’t possess this wisdom. He complained about how the Kalends of January were celebrated in Rome with “dancing in the streets, heathenish cries, sacrilegious songs, tables laden with food and women wearing amulets and offering them for sale.”
To somewhat dampen the enthusiasm, the Roman Catholic church declared this the Day of the Circumcision.
The ancient Romans also gave each other small gifts (called strenae) on this day, symbolic of good luck for the new year, like coins with the faces of the God Janus on one side and a ship on the other (for He was considered the patron of ships and trade). The modern Roman ritual is a plunge in the icy Tiber River.
New Year’s Around the World
In England, gloves and pins were the traditional New Years gifts up until the 19th century. In France, children give their parents handmade gifts with a wish of “Bonne Année!”
Food eaten on New Years Day always has significance, as it also affects the quality of the coming year. In ancient times, the Romans gave friends a glass jar full of dates and dried figs in honey, along with a bay leaf branch, so the coming year would be sweet and full of good fortune.
Throughout Japan, preparing and serving special New Year’s foods are important rituals. This sacred meal is shared with the kami (spirits) as well as family members.
Rice is one of the most important foods served. It is specially prepared and shared with the ancestors and the Gods, like Toshigami, the rather fierce Year God, who each family hopes will smile upon them, bring good fortune for the coming year.
One of the most famous magical foods to be eaten on New Year’s comes from the American South.
Hoppin’ John is an old favorite dish that was a staple of slaves in the antebellum Carolinas, where African bean stews (also found in the Caribbean) met the local American rice industry and came deliciously together.
Possibly the earliest appearance of the dish by the name Hopping John was in an 1847 cookbook called The Carolina Housewife. No one knows for sure how the name originated, but one reasonable suggestion is that it’s a corruption of the French-Caribbean words pois à pigeon, or pigeon pea, a relative of the black-eyed pea, and which would be pronounced “pwah-ah-pee-john.”
Practically every Southern cook (and cookbook) I know has a recipe for Hoppin’ John, but there are three basic ingredients that never vary (unless you are a vegetarian).
The black-eyed peas (sometimes field peas or crowder peas may be substituted) are the most important symbolic food. In many cultures, beans and other legumes are thought to bring good luck because of their resemblance to coins (which means the promise of wealth).
The rice is for fertility (which is why we throw rice at newlyweds with such gusto). And of course, most old Southern recipes require that fatback, ham bone, or bacon is used to flavor the stew, since pigs are lucky and cooking up a pig in a pot is a sign of prosperity. Usually, just to ensure plenty of extra folding cash, collard or mustard greens are also served on the side.
While nowadays, you can find Hoppin’ John recipes that are all chic and gussied-up, with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, black beans, or made with a fancy rice pilaf, I think that plain and simple is the real spirit of it. It is just a mix of cooked rice, black-eyed peas, and some kind of seasoning (pork, if you eat it).
As a vegetarian, I skip the ham hocks. But I have found that original Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice® is very satisfying. Besides, it reminds me of my mom, who always fixed it for our holiday meals when I was a little girl.
If you’re veg, too, be sure to read the ingredients carefully – some kinds have chicken flavoring. Simmered with black-eyed peas, served with sides of greens and cornbread, this is a simple, tasty, and satisfying meal that has brought plenty of luck to our table!
Blessings of Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia
As many of my long-time readers know, because They are always invoked at the commencement of every journey, meal, and endeavor, let us give an offering of thanksgiving to the Three Graces. May their benedictions illuminate all the days of this year for you.
I also want to take this opportunity to give thanks to you — for your many prayers on my behalf; for your attentive comments and thoughts; for being my loyal readers and clients; and just for being you: a shining soul on this journey of Mystery, as we do this transformative work, all of us, united in all our beautiful diversity.
May the coming decade shower you with vast reserves of creative courage to leap with faith, and dance with the purest joy of being Alive.
May the Divine One(s) of plenty bestow upon you happier and finer abundance than you even thought to ask.
And, despite so many disheartening appearances to the contrary, let us all hold fast to the Advent magic we worked together.
And thus we continue to do our sacred best to ensure that this will be a new decade in which peace, prosperity, kindness, and harmony are plentiful, for ourselves and all our relations.