“I don’t believe the superstition that it brings good luck, but I eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. It’s tradition for my family,” my yoga instructor said. “What do you eat?”
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I’d been balancing on one leg but her question took me by surprise and I landed on the floor. “Food for good luck? People do that?”
Needless to say, my Amish family and community didn’t celebrate New Year’s Day with . . .
. . . special dishes to bring prosperity in the year ahead. In fact, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were just like any other days of the week.
Except for being able to say, “I’ll see you next year!” on December 31. That one line when going to bed was the only acknowledgment I remember as a child.
And January 1? Replacing the old calendars throughout the house with brand new ones the next day. (By that I mean physical ones hanging on the walls, in case you’re of the generation that’s grown up digital, never touched a physical calendar, and don’t know there is such a thing.)
Watching the ball drop in New York City’s Times Square, making New Year’s resolutions, picking a word of the year, eating good luck food. . . . None of those things are part of my experience.
But there’s an Amish tradition that does mark the beginning of every year. And that happens every January 6.
According to the religion, that day is Epiphany and marks the three wise men visiting baby Jesus. It’s observed as a “fast day”, meaning that baptized Amish don’t eat until noon that day. It’s also a day of rest, celebrated like in-between Sunday. Basically, January 6 is to the Amish what January 1 is to the rest of America, except for the morning fasting part!
In case you didn’t know this, all Christian churches observed Jesus’ birth on January 6 until the fourth century CE. The 6th combined the birth and visit from the wise men. It was only later that the Roman Catholic Church decided that they were going to move Jesus’ birth to December 25, in order to compete with indigenous Roman festivities (what the Christians labelled pagan and used in a derogatory sense).
So, for my uninformed Amish friends, if you’ve been duped into believing that the liberals are waging a war on Christmas or are threatening to “cancel” Christmas (whatever that means!), nothing could be further from the truth. December 25 is a major pagan holiday that the Christians stole from the Romans, and they’ve passed it off as Jesus’ birth and as Christian ever since.
Back to the 6th, I still consider the holiday season to not be over until at least January 7 (and not really even until the spring semester starts because I like the academic calendar rhythm). I keep my pagan tree and lights up — string lights stay up year-round — even though everyone else seems to have fully moved on the instant the 1st is gone.
I did notice that this year was different in that so many of my friends, colleagues, and businesses kept their trees and lights up a lot longer, too. The pandemic fatigue seems to have created this trend. We want to hang on to hope, renewal, joy, family, friends, festivities — to make that special actively celebrated season to last as long as possible. That’s what it’s about for me.
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