Happy New Year

New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay, First Footing

Here we come to what is perhaps Seth Thompson’s least favorite night of the year: New Year’s Eve. “Too much pressure,” he says.”Everything hinges on one precise moment.” And so each year I deal with this. But if there is one thing I really love about New Year’s Eve, it’s the zeppole. These are different from the zeppole we buy for St. Joseph’s Day in March; New Year’s Eve zeppole are kind of a fried doughnut––a yeast dough, much like pizza dough, but enriched with eggs. Mom will make the dough and let it raise and sometimes it will bubble up over the sides of the bowl it’s proofing in and then she’ll spoon the dough into hot oil, stretching the dough as it slides into the fat. The result is a light, fried treat that comes in all sorts of shapes that remind you of all sorts of things as you eat them, whether they be drizzled in honey or dusted in powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.

The zeppole are all we really need in my family for a fine New Year’s Eve, but our tradition is to make all kinds of party foods: pigs in the blanket, glazed meatballs, spinach & artichoke dip, things like that. I did try once or twice to get my family to eat lentils for New Year’s Eve dinner, but I’ve always been met with stiff resistance. Grandma Cutrone, however, would make a pot of lentils, and would come round to whoever was gathered at her home at midnight on New Year’s Eve to offer them a spoonful: Lentils for wealth in the new year, the lentils symbolizing coins and riches.

Hogmanay and First Footing refer to the New Year’s traditions of Scotland, where the new year celebration is the biggest part of the Yuletide season. The celebration there is known as Hogmanay, which is believed to to be derived from the French au gui menez, “lead to the mistletoe,” and this suggests a very ancient and pre-Christian derivation of most Hogmanay traditions, for it leads directly back to the Celtic druids and the mistletoe that was sacred to their ceremonies. First Footing is an aspect of Hogmanay that feels particularly like a magic spell: The first person to step across the threshold of the front doorway after midnight is this First Footer, and it is hoped that this person would be a red- or dark-haired man carrying whisky or mistletoe or, in some cases, bread, salt and coal. In this case he would kiss all the women and shake the hands of all the men before placing the coal on the fire and the bread and salt on the table and then he’d kiss all the women and shake hands with all the men once more on his way out.

New Year’s symbolism is potent magic, and New Year’s Eve is perhaps the most common night of the year for symbolic foods and rituals. If you have some that are part of your traditions, I’d be honored if you shared them here in the comments section. It’s easy to do so and it helps us all to learn, so please join in and help make this a conversation. Between your input and mine, maybe we can help Seth see that New Year’s Eve is not so bad, after all.

Image: “The Oswestry Old Folks Club New Year Party” or, in Welsh, “Parti Dydd Calan Clwb Henoed Croesowallt.” Photograph by Geoff Charles, in Wales, 1955 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


20 thoughts on “Happy New Year

  1. Monica says:

    I grew up with the Southern tradition of Hoppin’ John, eaten for good luck in the year. I would take a fried doughnut over black eyed peas any day! 🤓 Happy New Year!

    • John Cutrone says:

      Oh I love black eyed peas, Monica! But if I had to choose… yeah, the doughnut might win. I wonder if the Hoppin’ John has any relation to Grandma Cutrone’s lentils and if eating them is meant to ensure wealth in the new year.

      • Monica says:

        Interesting that there is something similar in Italian culture! I imagine that, like many Southern food traditions, Hoppin John has it’s origins in African food culture brought here.

        Not food related, some of my friends at work told me they have a tradition in the African-American community of going to church on New Year’s eve for “the watch. ” they told me it is related to the days when the sleeves waited to hear back about the Emancipation Proclamation and whether or not it had been passed. Although I grew up in the south this was the first I’d heard of it! I thought it was really cool.

  2. PamelaB says:

    I lived in Kenya for 2 years and precisely at midnight someone opened the front door to welcome the New Year at the same time someone else was at the back door to push the old year out. Not sure if this was local or a borrowed Colonial tradition, but it was a mandatory part of the rituals.

  3. Kim says:

    I’m with you Seth!!! Amateur night at its lowest.

  4. Kim says:

    Oop, & HNY!!!

  5. Dixie says:

    We always worked on the floats for the Pasadena Rose Parade, so New Year’s eve was spent in the float barns putting on the finishing touches – often in a panic, but always with good natured ribbing and laughs. Auntie Alice would bring a huge pot of black eyed peas and Mom would make big pans of corn bread. They would share with everyone working in the barns at midnight. The float barns are COLD, and a bowl of hot peas with cornbread and honey really hit the spot. Auntie Alice said the black eyed peas would bring us health and wealth in the New Year.

  6. Camden says:

    My family did not do much in the way of celebrating New Year’s Eve besides letting my sister and I stay up late to watch fireworks…however, New Year’s Day was a big deal in our family! (I apologize if this is jumping the gun and you’re going to cover this tomorrow!) We’d get together for dinner with extended family we saw only rarely and ate Japanese food on January 1st. My mother tells me that we ate a lot of green food at these meals for good luck, but my enduring memory is sushi made by my grandfather and chikuzenni made by his sister, my great-aunt; possibly because I refused to eat either, the sushi being distasteful because I didn’t like seaweed and chikuzenni just looking too weird (I was an extremely picky eater as a child and I am sure I missed out on a lot of great food during these meals.) I don’t think those are symbolic foods, merely traditional; if they are symbolic in our family, it is regrettably too late for me to ask now. I still have fond memories of my cousins and I getting thrown out of the kitchen by my great-aunt for trying to get at the mochi though.

    • John Cutrone says:

      Don’t you worry about jumping the gun, Camden; I’m glad you chimed in and I love your story. And it is tough to resist mochi, I know! I’m not familiar with chikuzenni, even though I worked in a Japanese restaurant (actually, most of my family worked at the same Japanese restaurant––my two nephews, my sister, my husband, and me––at various times and sometimes together. But I don’t recall chikuzenni. What is it? And… do you like it now?

      • Camden says:

        Chikuzenni is a root/vegetable/chicken dish! (I just had to look up the spelling to make sure I had it right – despite being part Japanese, I can’t spell anything in Japanese for beans.) Everything in chikuzenni is tolerable, unless you are 7 years old and extremely concerned about the aesthetics of your food, in which case the lotus root is too weird and thus the entire dish cannot be eaten. I’m proud to say I’ve gotten over that particular prejudice, though I’m not fond of mushrooms so I still don’t eat it very often!

        • John Cutrone says:

          It’s good you re-evaluated, then. I think I like lotus root; I’m pretty sure it’s one of the ingredients in a soup we get at Watanna Thai that I find so intriguing. There is very little I do not like, but I sometimes do try these things again as I get older. I’m still uncertain about rhubarb.

  7. Paula Marie Gourley says:

    It’s lentils for me, cooked in a rich chicken broth and a fine Bay Leaf. We used to make phone calls to distant friends and relatives, a habit that died with the passage of time and beloveds. I try, but usually don’t stay up late on this night ant more. Right now, the flu is bedeviling me. But I look forward to a bowl of lentils, those flinty bluegreen French ones, and plans to make Kourambiedes as we edge toward Epiphany. Making those lovely Greek cookies has been my habit for about 50 years now! Here’s to traditions, shared joys, and a Happier New Year.

    • John Cutrone says:

      Kourambiedes! I will always remember you bringing freshly baked kourambiedes to our bookbinding class at Alabama, and we have since made your recipe for Epiphany at least two or three times. Get well soon, Paula!

  8. Carl and Kathleen Maugeri says:

    Tonight we are in a hospice room with my 95 year old father in law. We will have a bit of champagne and a tiny taste of pizzelles and rejoice that he is here in 2018. He is very happy to see the ball fall. We love him dearly and know this is the last time to celebrate with him. But celebrate we will

    • John Cutrone says:

      Happy new year to you all, Carl and Kathleen and your dad. Your story is very touching, especially in that I lost my dad in the year since the last New Year’s Eve. I’m glad there is champagne and I’m glad there are pizzelli for the three of you. And I’m glad you are celebrating. Much love.

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