Happy New Year

I’m thinking today of some of the New Year’s customs from my native southeastern Illinois IMG_0381(1)where many of the people came from Kentucky and Tennessee. True to the southern tradition, cabbage and black-eyed peas  were popular foods on New Year’s Day. The cabbage represented green folding money and the peas represented coins. Eating them meant having economic prosperity throughout the year. I’ve also heard of folks sleeping with a horseshoe under their pillows on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck. I’ve tried the cabbage and the peas, and while I’ve never slept with a horseshoe under my pillow, I do keep one on a shelf in my study, a large horseshoe rescued from my family farm before I sold it, a shoe that must have come from the days when my grandfather plowed with a team of draft horses. I keep it turned up so the luck doesn’t fall out.

My parents weren’t big New Year’s Eve revelers, but they did usually host or attend an oyster soup supper for, or with, my aunts and uncles. The supper was generally followed by an evening of playing cards: pitch, euchre, or Rook. As far as I’ve been able to discover, the custom of eating oysters as a way of bringing good fortune comes from the Chinese. I’m fairly certain that my parents never set foot inside a Chinese restaurant, so if anyone knows more about this custom as it applies to those outside the Chinese culture, I’d be interested to hear from you. I’m particularly interested in how that custom of oysters on New Year’s Eve made its way to the farms and small towns of southeastern Illinois.

Sometimes we need something solid to hold onto to give us faith in the future rolling out ahead of us. I make this post on New Year’s Eve, 2012, as a fine snow comes down on Columbus, Ohio, and as I wait to see why I’ve developed an irregular heartbeat three weeks after my PFO closure. I returned my 24-hour heart monitor this morning, and we’ll see what it shows my cardiologist. He’s told me that he’s confident that the device he implanted in my heart isn’t causing my arrhythmia. Maybe he’s right. Who knows? One more wrinkle to deal with here at the end of what’s been for me a challenging past three months. But it’s also been a year of good friends, good students, good books, good time spent with good people, and, when I was lucky and the muse was with me, good writing. I’m grateful to have had the chance to experience it all.

I wish you all a prosperous New Year, no matter what your lucky foods may be or what customs you may follow. I look forward to our paths crossing in 2013. Until then, love and blessings, and much, much, much good luck.



  1. Ruth Ann on December 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Very interesting Lee. I don’t remember ever my side of the family having oysters/or oyster soup. The card playing; yes I remember that. Grandma and Grandpa Garrett and family did play those card games.
    And, yes, for us also the last three months have been a Real challenge~~I would not want to deal with such again. The decisions that were made will now stand and I “think” I agree with them~~but it wasn’t my “call.”
    Sorry to hear about the arrhythmia Lee~~I do know several who have that condition also. A close relative was told it’s just something she will have to “live with.”
    And we also have that fine snow coming down here also.
    Stay safe and I enjoy as always your stories of yesteryear.
    And my folks and grand-folks never set foot in a Chinese restaurant either.

    • Lee Martin on December 31, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Ruth Ann, here’s hoping for a wonderful 2013, full of health and happiness. Happy New Year!

  2. Twyla Hansen on December 31, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    A quick internet search reveals that this tradition likely grew out of Irish and Catholic traditions. It also reminds us that prior to refrigeration, perishables like seafood could only be transported from the coasts to landlocked states during the cold winter months; hence (perhaps), your family’s New Year’s Eve tradition. In our family, we always had oyster stew on Christmas Eve. I remember our father proudly picking up a box at our tiny town’s grocery store, and bringing it to the farm for our mother to cook. Even after he passed away, Mother kept making it for our Christmas Eve gatherings with our families. Until one time a few years ago when my brothers and I finally all admitted we hated oysters (which may have had more to do with Mother’s cooking, but oh well). Thanks for writing this, Lee. New Year’s blessings to you!

    • Lee Martin on December 31, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Twyla, your Internet search yielded more fruit (or oysters, as the case may be) than mine! Thanks so much. Seems to me that I now recall reading something about the oysters only being available during the winter months, and thus providing a luxury fit for a New Year’s celebration. Thanks for sharing your family’s story. Happy New Year, Twuyla!

  3. Kate Flaherty on December 31, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    I remember reading about oyster stew at Christmas in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls. There was one winter where Pa walked to town to get the family’s Christmas treats and got caught in a blizzard on the way home. I think he was trapped for three days, but he survived by carving out a cave in the snow and eating the treats he’d bought–candy and oyster crackers. He managed not to eat the oysters though, so the family still had oyster stew when he finally made it home.

    • Lee Martin on December 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks for that story about the Little House books, Kate. Oh, that Pa was a smart one! Happy New Year!

  4. Doug Reid on December 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Happy New Year Lee. I read FROM OUR HOUSE a fews back while living in Brazil and have since been a fan. Great traditions are worth holding on to and mean so much to me and my family. I hope 2013 is full of inspiration for you and most important a year of great health.

    • Lee Martin on December 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Doug, and for you kind words. I’m wishing the best for you and yours in 2013.

  5. Denise on January 1, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Best wishes to you, Lee, for a wonderful New Year. Many blessings.

    • Lee Martin on January 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Thank you, Denise. Wishing you all the best in 2013.

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