Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Truth about First-Footers, Sauerkraut, and Other New Years Superstitions

I was just talking to my wife's grandmother (whom we call Mommom) about some wacky New Years Day superstitions-- things to do to bring yourself good luck in the new year, or, at the very least, ward off bad luck. She learned these superstitions, apparently, many, many years ago, when she was living in Pennsylvania. And let me tell you: she had some doozies. For example:

When the new year begins, the first person to cross the threshold of your house-- known in some circles as the "first-footer"-- needs to be a man. And it can't be a man who lives in the hosue either: it has to be a male visitor. (And if a woman enters first? Bad luck for a year!)

On New Years Day, you have to eat a meal of pork, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes; this will bring good fortune. (And, yes, it is indeed rare to see "sauerkraut" linked with "good fortune.") But whatever you do, do NOT have chicken on New Years Day, as this means you will be "scratching" for money all year.

Mommom also mentioned a superstition involving washing your face while holding coins in your hands... but she never really bought into that one.

While she was telling these stories, my mother-in-law chimed in with a superstition her Italian hairdresser once told her: on New Years Day, you should fill a bucket with water and throw the water out the fornt door, which symbolizes throwing out all of the bad luck from the previous year. But this superstition comes with a caveat: don't throw water on the front porch, because if the water freeze, someone might slip and fall. (This, apparently, happened to the hairdresser's brother.)

When I asked Mommom if she believed these superstitions, she said no... but she still wanted me to be the first visitor to cross the threshold today. "Why take chances?" she said wisely.

(Incidentally, you can read about other New Years Day superstitions at one of my favorite websites,

Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to take one last look back. I started this blog at the end of last May; I ended up writing 50 posts in 2008. Maybe not "magnum opus" numbers, but not bad. I was pretty proud of some of them, and I wanted to give a few of the forgotten posts one last plug:

"Reviewing a Review" (June 3, 2008): someone reviewed a short story I wrote, and I gave my assessment of his assessment. All very meta.

"Sox Education" (June 19, 2008): This one basically uses the 2004 Red Sox as a metaphor for teaching. I know it's January, and no one cares about baseball right now; still, I wanted to give it a shout-out because I always considered it an "unsung hero" kind of post.

"Mostly, for Worse" (August 30, 2008): In this one, I basically bemoan how newspapers keep running the same comic strips they ran thirty years ago, despite the fact that many of the creators of said comics have died. A fascinating sociological study that no one actually read.

"Last Person on Earth" (October 6, 2008): Here, I talk about how teaching can be an extremely insulating and isolating job; sometimes, it takes an encouraging word from a co-worker to bring you back form the brink of insanity. (I actually got two comments for this one...)

"So Help Me Me" (October 9, 2008): This was an election-themed post, using NBC's West Wing to prove my theory: in order to want to be president, you have to have a God-complex. Again, time has made it less topical, but I was a big West Wing fan, and I had that idea cooking for years, so I wanted to give it one last plug.

"Society is the Spice of Life" (November 30, 2008): All about this phenomenon of "society-blaming." Hey, I liked it, but what do I know?

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the pork and sauerkraut.

1 comment:

rebecca said...

In the South, you have to eat pork and black eyed peas. I used to eat 12, one for each month. Not a big fan of black eyed peas as a kid!