New Year’s traditions range across cultures and families. A recent edition of Poets & Writers describes some of these. Rolling empty suitcases around the block to increase one’s chances of traveling (remember when we were able to travel anywhere?), pounding rice to make mocha for good fortune, eating lentils to herald prosperity, and eating twelve grapes for twelve wishes were just a few of the ones described. Some traditions, such as kissing at midnight for romantic luck or throwing pails of water out the window to chase away evil spirits date back over a century.
As a young boy growing up behind the Iron Curtain, we didn’t have television to watch, and the radio consisted of only two stations, one of which was restricted to news and Communist propaganda, the other of which carried music and programs for entertainment. There were two popular comedians who performed on the latter channel every New Year’s Eve, and the entire country would listen in. My grandmother would make a delicious main course of some chicken dish (due to post war scarcity, chicken was the most expensive meat sold in the stores, and thus reserved for holidays and special celebrations.) She would make a chocolate cake with her secret recipe (one she refused to share even with my mom) that remains in my memory as the best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten. Keeping the recipe secret was her only vanity, and one that worked. I can never eat a piece of chocolate cake without thinking of her. In addition to the cake, we would have balygli, a traditional holiday dessert of rolled dough filled with either layers of crushed walnuts or poppy seeds and raisins. The joke was that the walnut variety was always more popular with everyone, so it was long gone before the poppy seed one was ever consumed. So why not just make the walnut one? Because to make both was tradition!
The comedians broadcasting the New Year show on the radio always saved their best jokes for the last hour before midnight, and their jokes would get told around the rest of the country for the weeks to follow. Their genius lay in finding humor relatable to a very wide audience, both adult and child. Part of the excitement of the New Year celebration for me was being allowed to stay up until after midnight, and seeing everyone laughing and happy at a time when life was otherwise pretty grim. We would make toasts with spritzer, glasses of wine diluted in half with sparkling soda. Children were allowed to have a glass along with the adults. Perhaps due this tradition, I never considered alcohol to be some secret pleasure to be sought out when I grew older.
How about the rest of you? Did any of you have any special New Year’s Eve traditions growing up? I would love to hear about them.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year, from Medico Musings