My grandmother embraced many of the superstitions she learned as a child. Since she lived in our household, or we hers, throughout my childhood and adolescence I learned many of these as well. There are two holiday superstitions, I prefer to call them traditions, about which she was quite strict.
The first required that all Christmas decorations be taken down no later than New Year’s Eve. The only explanation I ever received for this was that carrying anything over from one year to the next was bad luck. I observed this tradition all my single life. Both Harper’s Other Dad and my previous partner are Catholics. I’m advised the Catholic view is that the holidays should be observed through “twelfth night” or Epiphany. Given the outspoken views on matters of religion of many in the part of the country where my grandmother grew up, it is quite possible that her tradition was based entirely on differentiating which households were Baptists; 95% of them; and which were Catholics. Over the years Harper’s Other Dad and I have adopted an unspoken compromise. We take the decoration down when the spirit moves us as long as it is completed by Epiphany. My grandmother would disapprove but I suspect on the spectrum of things about my life of which she would disapprove this would probably not make the top 10.
The second holiday tradition is one I observe quite diligently. One must, without fail, eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. This tradition dates back to the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were raised in the south, primarily to feed livestock (and later as a food staple for slaves). During the war, the northern armies commandeered or destroyed all the available foodstuffs but, for whatever reason, left the black-eyed pea field untouched. During the Reconstruction era the peas were the difference between survival and starvation for most of the former Confederacy. As a result it became a custom to eat them on New Year’s Day to ensure luck and prosperity in the year ahead.
There are a number of variations of belief on how they should be prepared. Most recipes include some kind of pork and some kind of greens. I’ve read there is one tradition that involves cooking them with a coin; a penny or dime, in the pot to attract wealth in the coming year. In our home, Christmas dinner usually includes ham so I make the New Year’s peas with the ham bone and left-over ham. They will never be my favorite food but I make them every year. Harper’s Other Dad is a good sport about eating at least one serving. Harper gets the bone after it cools. I eat enough of them to keep my grandmother from spinning in her grave.