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  • Karen Luke Jackson

Bringing in the New Year Southern Style

I awake, remember what day this is, and quickly remind myself to be extra careful. Those are my mother’s words, imparted to me as a child growing up in Wiregrass Georgia. Her reason: whatever a person does the first day of the year, she will find herself doing the whole year long.

Mother took seriously this bit of folklore passed down in her family. On January first, everyone avoided washing, ironing, and cleaning, no matter what day of the week, and there was to be absolutely no arguing or fighting. She encouraged us to think about what we wanted “more of” and engage in those activities—time with loved ones, a drive in the country, fishing, or perhaps playing checkers and setback, a card game similar to bridge. As Southerners, we faithfully dined on winter collards to ensure wealth, but rather than Charleston’s Hoppin’ John, we chomped down on black-eyed peas seasoned with hog jowl to bring good luck. No rice for us.

As an adult, I’ve tried to dispel these old wives’ tale, but this morning I once again find myself scanning the day, noting what to forego and what to welcome in. I’m pleased the clock shows 8:00 a.m. A leisurely start, with sunlight breaking through rain clouds, is a good omen.

After rising, I prepare a healthy breakfast of fruit and oatmeal and follow it with morning prayer. Nourishing my body and placing trust in a Higher Power are good practices for the upcoming year. Then I waffle about the day. I’d planned to see a movie, sure to guarantee future fun, but the weather is too beautiful to be cooped inside. Be extra careful rattles in my head. Do I dare rearrange my schedule and hike instead?

The unseasonable warm proves futile to resist, so I cancel the theater outing, drive to a local park, and stroll the greenway with a friend. Refreshed, I check in with myself. Despite the brief moment of indecision, I’ve done things I want “more of” in the year ahead. The day is half gone, and nothing gloomy has happened yet. In the car heading home, I unwittingly wolf a power bar for lunch and text from my cell phone, habits I swore I’d break. Now they are sure to haunt in the months ahead.

I stop to visit neighbors and find them binging on football. I have little interest in that sport, so I make a quick escape. At night I cook for my children, a pork roast, cheese potatoes, and the compulsory greens and peas. When they leave, I encounter another quandary. Would my mother advise me to wash the dishes or postpone that task until tomorrow? I loathe a messy house, so I fill the kitchen sink.

Before retiring, I eat another slice of apple pie and watch a television talk show. What was I thinking? Now late-night snacks and screaming personalities are part of this year’s protocol. Wide-eyed under the covers long past bedtime, I fret about what patterns I’ve etched in stone.

There’s one thing I know for sure. Next January 1, I will recall my mother’s words and, although reason tells me her warning is unfounded, carefully weigh each action. It’s a New Year’s tradition I can’t seem to shake.

Questions for Reflection

What were your New Year traditions as a child? How do they continue to shape the way your welcome the new year?

Are there practices, habits or activities you would like to avoid in 2020? Ones that you would like "more of" in the coming year?


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