Thursday, January 2, 2014

Melding traditions on New Years

How things change! No longer is New Year’s Eve the thing of my youth, huge parties with friends from all over the US and Canada, live bands, glam dresses and fancy drinks. No, NYE is something completely different these days, much more sedate and calm. 2014 did not come with a bang for us, it was more of a slight draft that let me know the door had opened. At what point did I lose the will to party like it’s 1999, was it after Lauris was born, or even before then, once Roberts and I had gotten engaged? Because isn’t that what New Year’s Eve is all about, catching the eye of “that guy” and being the first to wish them a happy new year with a kiss?

Our celebration this year was more a mélange of traditions than it was a party, but I think that is what the close of 2013 called for. Finally recovered from the Christmas guests, we spent the day awaiting the arrival of my parents from Chicago. In the morning I put the grey peas in to soak, one of the main Latvian New Year’s traditions we keep. These particular peas are harder to find in the US, we usually get ours straight from Latvia by mail or traveling relative. They should be rinsed then soaked in cold water for 6-8 hours. Boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1-2 hours, at which point they should be seasoned with salt and pepper and served with bacon and onions, or even leftover Christmas ham… Tradition has it, that the grey peas on one’s plate must be finished before the arrival of the New Year, because they symbolize the tears of that coming year. If all the “tears” have been eaten, there won’t be any left to cry…

On my trip to buy fruits and veggies in the morning, I noticed everyone in line ahead of me was sporting a big bundle of collards. It is southern tradition that on the first day of the New Year collard greens are eaten for “cash money” and black-eyed peas for change. One source thought this association of wealth in the coming year with collards is due to the resemblance of the leaves to folded money, but although there will surely be “greens” on the menu this January 1st to bring us financial luck in the coming year, we’ll put off starting any new traditions for now – collards and grits are the two southern dishes I just can’t get into.
A global tradition that has made its way into our annual celebration is some sort of pyrotechnics. Although it is popular for Americans to light off all sorts of fireworks from little roman candles to giant NYE displays, my favorite since I was a little girl are the sparklers. We started off watching the neighbor boys light some more exciting stuff, but afterwards we had some fun with the small, yet magical light show more suited for their age.

Another Latvian superstition that might be more widespread than I know, is that the state of affairs during the transition to the New Year portends how things will be that coming year. For example if the house is clean, you’ll be able to keep a tidy home all next year. Be especially weary of having the laundry done, dishes washed and kitchen spotless. And if you sleep through the arrival of the New Year, why then you’ll sleep all year (you hear that Mikus?)! Putting things in order was slightly easier with my parents on the way (motivation to clean), but that was pretty much it for the Latvian customs. You can read about a few more of those in my post Happy 2012, like laimes liešana, the telling of the future by pouring molten lead into a bucket of cold water. We skipped the liquefied metals this year in favor of the iPhone app “laimes liešana” – not quite the same thing, but will do in a pinch.
I’ve always wanted to ring in the New Year in Times Square, but the one year I was in NYC December 31st we welcomed the New Year at a burlesque show in Brooklyn. That, my friends is a story for another time, but this wish might explain why I love to watch the ball drop on TV. It serves a second purpose as well, as official timekeeper, otherwise you might miss the actual stroke of midnight (like during our celebration in France). Then, as is global custom, we raised a glass of bubbly upon the arrival of my parents and the New Year, which occurred in that particular order.

To start off 2014 right, we dined on a breakfast of plānās pankūkas. In the next few days some Rīgas šprotes (Rigas sprats) found their way onto our table, as well as Laimas chocolates “Vāverīte,” glazed wafer cake with crumbled hazelnuts. Let's hope 2014 continues in this vein...


  1. Happy New Year. I love learning about all of the different traditions. How fun. Sadly my house was not clean at midnight, guess I should abandon all hope for 2014. :)

  2. Unbelievable, that you are getting so much Latvian traditional food there in US.
    It is really true that New Year party is different when you have children. For us the same.
    Happy New Year, and I wish you many new inspirations for your blog posts, too!

  3. Hi Liene...wishing you a Laimigu Jauno Gadu and all you wish for for 2014! I didn't know about the pea tradition...what an interesting read! We had a calm New Year here with my daughter and little grandchildren visiting...perhaps we'll see them a lot during this year!

  4. Dear Liene, wishing you and yours a good New Year: healthy, happy, fun and prosperous.

  5. Looks like you rang in 2014 in great style! And thanks for linking to my blog under your Latvian Links. Except that now I feel some pressure to write about more Latvian topics! :) Visu to labako jaunaja gada!


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