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Hampton Roads Community News

Cherished New Year’s Traditions That Live On

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

Some will welcome the New Year by attending a local church, others by watching the clock tick away the last minutes of the old year, and yet others will be whipping up celebratory dishes such as black-eyed peas, collard greens and Hopping John to enjoy as their first meal of the new year.

Many African Americans traditionally gather to observe “Watch Night,” a service that can be traced to Dec. 31, 1862, when freed Blacks in the Union States gathered in churches and other safe spaces to pray for the freedom of enslaved Blacks in Confederate, slave-holding states. The tradition of Watch Night services continues to live on in Black churches as congregants begin to pray silently shortly before the clock strikes 12 and into the new year.

Others will gather in restaurants, homes, and bars on New Year’s Eve to party loudly. For example, Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Bar in Portsmouth will host a New Year’s Eve Ball on Dec. 31, at 9 p.m. (Cost-$15). Upscale Restaurant will host a New Year’s Eve Celebration on Dec. 31, at 8 p.m., in Virginia Beach. (Cost $30). Newport News’ Prospect Lounge will host a Casino Royale New Year’s Eve Celebration on Dec. 31, at 8 p.m. (Cost-$25).

Those who welcome the New Year by walking into their kitchen and whipping up a pot of black-eyed peas may see the peas’ value for their “mystical and mythical power,” said, Southern food researcher John Egerton in his book, “Southern Food: At Home, On the Road.” African American culture promotes the myth that black-eyed peas bring good luck. Others will cook collard greens because they are green like money. Others will cook Hopping John Soup which is a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice simmered in chicken or shrimp.

Some people will even put a penny or a dime inside the pot of peas. Whoever is “lucky” enough to receive the coin will have the most luck for the rest of the year.

New Year’s staples may include cornbread and a glazed ham. Now, health conscious cooks are adding turkey (not pork) to their good-luck specialty dishes. Some cooks are even tossing cooked black-eyed peas into salads with lettuce, veggies, and grains.

Still, many New Year’s customs have largely vanished including the custom of painting a porch ceiling light blue to stave off the “haints.” Now, few people halt a rocking chair’s forward movement on a front porch because few homes have front porches with rocking chairs. Some believe it is bad luck to start the New Year with bare cupboards. Others open the front door just before midnight to let the old year out and welcome the new one.

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