New Years Eve seemed stealthy this year. All of a sudden it was there and I found myself in a bit of a rush to get all the rituals performed. Some of them are more difficult than others, both to perform and to remember. The ones that I seem to have absorbed come from very diverse backgrounds in that I am quite a mixed race both genetically and culturally.
The first and most common of these is to take loose change from your pocket and place it on a window sill. This is supposed to provide financial security in the New Year. As has always been a concern, I am quite religious about it – until this year. Around 11:30 am, I put my hand in my pocket and found it empty. I went through every pant that is currently in use and could not find any coins. I discovered three cents in the pocket of my current overshirt. I don’t know if that qualifies, but if the money fairies don’t like me this year, I suspect it will be hard to distinguish from normal.
The second important ritual is easier: not doing laundry on New Years Eve. I can assure you that this did not happen, even though I got quite muddy and had to dig through a new pair of clothes. work socks in the cellar. The same is true of a related superstition – not sweeping the dust on New Years Eve or New Years Day. Rest assured, I did not sweep or vacuum and, to be sure, I did. haven’t done it yet.
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Many of the ritual acts involve admitting you through the threshold. This one has always given me a hard time. The best person to be the first to walk in the door on New Years Day is someone tall and dark. The absolute worst is a blonde or a redhead. If that can’t happen, the person should at least be tall. Considering that three-quarters of my family were either blond or red and only the boy could be described as anything but stocky, it was always a challenge.
I am quite tall but MSB hair is not really considered dark. However, I find this one a little suspicious anyway because early on a New Years morning a guy about 6ft 4in with a full head of jet black hair and a bushy beard of the same color came over. Knock on the door. It turned out he was a bailiff informing me that I was being sued for $ 1.5 million.
You are also supposed to spill some milk on the ground for the fae. I can’t do it because the fairies would never be fast enough to beat the retriever. You can also drop some on the floor, which I handled by bringing warm milk to the geriatric cat. She rooted under the bowl as I tried to put it down, making enough of a mess on the porch to feed the whole fae establishment for quite a while.
One of my favorite New Years rituals is to eat 12 grapes, no more, no less for the whole day, which brings good luck for the next 12 months. Unfortunately this year although I went shopping on the 30th (another ritual is to make sure the pantry is well stocked), I forgot the grapes. What I had were two cans of fruit cocktail to be used in coleslaw. I opened both and found 11 green grapes. I topped this off with a raisin chosen the granola so we’ll see what happens.
If one depends on wild grapes to meet the demands of this New Year, it pays to be careful. This region and indeed all of North America and most of South America have native wild grape varieties. There are two subspecies which are most important in the east, Vitis labrusca, the fox grape, and Vitis riparia, the river grape. The first takes its name from the popular parable of the fox and the grape. The latter because of its preference for wetter lowland soils. Both are capable of great abundance. The Vikings called the northern coast of North America Vinland because of the enormous abundance of wild grapes. It is said that in the fall, you could sail to the shore following the scent of wild grapes.
In the parable, the fox was quite precise. The taste of wild grapes is nicely described as “tangy”. Some varieties are a little better after the gel opens certain cells, but they are really better used in things like cooked jellies. Colonial wild grape pie was considered a hit, although it wasn’t the word the kids used to describe the one I had made according to a century-old recipe. However, fox grapes were selectively bred to produce the modern Concord grape, which is used in most commercial grape jellies and juices. The American grape rootstock has been shown to be much more robust than the more delicately flavored European grapes and is therefore often used in the grafting of wine cultivars.
It is important to be careful with wild grapes, because in some areas there is a grape plant called moon seed. It doesn’t produce the huge vines of wild grapes, and it doesn’t have any of the many tendrils that wild grapes use to anchor to vertical objects. Moonseed berries are purple but usually in smaller clusters and somewhat smaller in size than wild grapes. The real defining characteristic is that instead of the three or four small grape seeds, moon seed berries contain a single crescent shaped seed. These seeds are highly toxic to humans and most domestic animals and can be fatal in fairly low doses. The good news is that while the grapes can be unpleasantly tart and sour, moon seed berries taste absolutely hideous, making accidental poisoning unlikely.
Another New Years ritual is to eat something circular while making a lot of noise just at midnight. In colonial America, it was often a cookie with a baked grape in the center and beating on drums or other noise generators. This year, I fulfilled the requirement by eating a donut while bellowing at the top of my lungs to try and wake the old deaf beagle to go out.
Happy New Year everyone. …
Bob Henke writes a weekly column on the outdoors for The star post.