Saturday, January 2, 2016

Tradition Bound

We were gathered around the table for our New Year's Day meal. This year our dinner was a little more casual: not a sit-down affair but buffet-style and everyone loading their plates and heading into the log room to sit around and eat and talk by the fire.


A visitor remarked on how tasty the cabbage was. Boiled cabbage is a New Year's staple here, served with wrapped-up coins hidden in the leaves and broth. Plenty of butter makes it great! I was thinking of that with a smile this morning, because how often do we assume we don't like something, only to find it prepared a certain way and the taste is delicious?

But it struck me then how easily my family accepts the old traditions, not only those of the holidays but pretty much year round. They know about putting money in the cabbage, saying "rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" on the first of each month, tossing spilled salt over their left shoulder, hanging bottles in trees, what a dropped fork, knife or spoon means, and other folkloric/traditional activities. We take it for granted and teach it to our children, grandchildren and friends. I wondered, has become a rarity today? Are families still doing the old, traditional rituals, good-luck-charms, bad-luck-deflectors? Will my family continue to do them? How many did I miss, forget, or let go over my lifetime?

Mom and Dad
My English mother and my father, who was raised in New Orleans, passed on many of the ways they grew up with. Mom especially was full of them, and her superstitions and traditions were ingrained in us children at an early age. Most of my siblings still remember and most of them still incorporate these into their lives, at least in some way. When I moved to the mountains I discovered a whole new world of tradition and folklore, which I took to like a duck to water.

These Appalachian hills have preserved many of the old ways, although even in the 40 years I have lived here I have seen this culture slowly dissolving into the mainstream of American life as media of all kinds makes its insidious way into even the most remote mountain holler. It makes me sad and yet, times change, and we change with them. I just hope we don't, as Mom used to say, throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I hope that my family at least will continue to burn their troubles in the fire at New Year's, make apple butter and put pennies in the kettle while it cooks, and hang blue bottles in trees. I hope we will stay in touch with this very old, playful part of life's rituals that deepen the meaning and appreciation, the awareness, of what we are doing, and how our activities link us to past generations. I hope we will continue to start our annual Christmas fire with the yule log saved from the last fire on Old Christmas and stare into those flames with the same eyes as those ancestors of old.


Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

10 comments:

Mac n' Janet said...

I fear many old traditions are dying out. I didn't know the one about putting coins in the cabbage, but always throw the salt over my shoulder. We don't burn our old troubles on New Year's, but I always cook a pot of black-eyed peas.
Happy New Year.

Jenny said...

You should do a few posts on old folklore & what they mean. I'd love to hear about the ones I haven't heard.

annie said...

Granny Sue, what's the point of hanging blue bottles in trees? I have seen many, but honestly don't know what it means. That one movie with Whoopie Goldberg had a huge tree full of colored bottles, and she said she drank them all. She was blind and telling that cute kid that. I remembered wondering at the time why they were hung.

I've heard of the coins in the cabbage. Never have tried it though, the old salt toss was done at our house way back when.

Brighid said...

I hadn't heard the cabbage coin one before. My mother didn't do any traditional things like those you mentioned. Over the years we picked up a few from other relatives or family friends. Like Christmas crackers, and eating Hopp'n John for New Years. I need to add more to our repertoire.

Granny Sue said...

Janet, I forgot to buy black-eyed peas! Oh dear---but maybe I'll just celebrate the Julian calendar New Year's Day instead, and have them then :)

Granny Sue said...

Jenny, I have done a few posts like that. I will do a post with links to all of the ones I have done so far. Good idea!

Granny Sue said...

Annie, the blue bottles, according to old folklore, attract evil spirits that might be on the way to your house. They get inside the bottles, and can't find their way out ;) Blue paint around windows and doors serves to keep them out too. As does a mirror on the porch and screens on windows and doors. The mirror because they have to stop and admire themselves, the screens because they have to count all the holes! Here's a link to one of my posts about them: http://grannysu.blogspot.com/2008/03/building-blue-bottle-bush.html

Celia said...

We open the front door and sweep the old year and its troubles out New Year's Eve or in the morning if we can't stay up :-)

Granny Sue said...

Celia, I have heard of that. I guess I did it inadvertently! Had to sweep up the kitchen, so...Thank you for reminding me of that tradition.

Susan Anderson said...

My family is also very tradition bound. We love them!

=)

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