Back in the Day: How many of you still follow these New Year traditions?

Back in the day, along with black-eyed peas and collard greens, gathering with family on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day was an important tradition.

by Alonzo Kittrels, Philadelphia Tribune Correspondent

During this time of the year, I regularly write about the ways some of our grandparents, parents and today’s seniors brought in the New Year. As we prepare to bring in 2024, I shall pull from past columns and share things that people did in the past. Perhaps, some young folks will embrace these past activities and place them on their radar to revisit how things were on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, back in the day.

Talk with anyone that grew up back in the day of their memories of bringing in a New Year and I cannot imagine anything except black-eyed peas and collard greens being at the top of their list. According to our ancestors, black-eyed peas cooking at the start of the New Year brought good luck. Before I knew anything about the change from one year to another, I knew about the tradition of black-eyed peas. If you visit any household on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day and find black-eyed peas on the stove or table, you can bet that the homeowners are likely from back in the day.

Collard greens with hog maw are another popular New Year’s dish. I understand from some back in the day aficionados that collard greens represent money. Naturally, there were chitterlings too. I could never forget chitterlings! On New Year’s Eve, I was driven out of our home, not because any wrongdoing but because my mother insisted that they were on our New Year’s Day menu and I could not stand the smell. While I loved my mother’s cooking, there was nothing about chitterlings, or “wrinkled steak” as some called them, that appealed to me. To this day, I wonder how the intestine of the pig, with or without vinegar or hot sauce, could appeal to anyone. Yet, there are some today that must have chitterlings at this time of the year, just as our grandparents and parents.

There is nothing more priceless than observing friends who have “arrived” enjoying chitterlings on New Year’s Day. You know the old saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the boy.” With a plate full of chitterlings, remember that you can take some brothers and sisters out of the hood, but you cannot take some traditions of the hood from the brothers and sisters. The taste and love for black-eyed peas, collard greens with hog maw and chitterlings are unforgettable memories, from back in the day.

New Year’s Eve is one of those occurrences that vividly illustrate the strong family traditions of the past. How many of you recall your parents emphasizing the importance of having all bills current by the start of the New Year?

Starting the New Year with unpaid bills was believed to be an indication that you would continue in this manner.

On the other hand, parents insisted that we have money in our pockets or pocketbooks when the New Year arrived. According to tradition, if you had no money on the first day of the year, you would have no money for the entire year. Hopefully you will have a few dollars in your pocket at midnight.

My mother made sure that things were in order before the New Year arrived. It was an absolute must that our dirty clothing was laundered and our home neat and clean. My mother gave as much attention to dirty clothing and our home’s appearance as the preparation of the New Year’s Day dinner. According to her, dirty clothing and an unkempt home meant bad luck. Not only was it important that clothing be washed, but also ironed, folded and put away. It was believed that those not sharing this belief will have bad luck in the New Year.

Back in the day, it was also a belief of our parents and grandparents that a man had to be the first person entering their home on New Year’s Day. Again, according to tradition, this practice would bring good luck; it could not be someone who lived in your household. Many made arrangements with friends or neighbors for a man to visit their home. A co-worker recently told me that she once waited hours outside of her grandmother’s home until a man came to visit. Given the movement for equal rights and opportunities for women, I doubt if this tradition has found its way into current practices. As many men fail to have good luck, you wonder how they could bring good luck to a home.

Only a few of us will return Sunday evening for an activity in which our parents and grandparents regularly participated. You may recall that church attendance on New Year’s Eve was expected; it was a practice instilled in us by our parents and instilled in them by their parents.

As this New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday, some churches will omit the evening church service since church members will be in church earlier in the day for regular Sunday Service.

In some cases, the evening service will be of shorter duration. Many churches no longer refer to New Year’s Eve service as Watch Night Service as once was the case. I doubt if anyone experienced the preacher designating one male member as the Watchman, nor do I suspect that the preacher asked, “Watchman, watchman, what time is it?” This is a tradition that can be traced back to gatherings on Dec. 31, 1862, known as “Freedom’s Eve.” This practice has been left far back in the day.

Are you planning to do as my generation did back in the ‘60s? Back then, the New Year could not be brought in without a major party. Attending a dance at a hotel, ballroom, a neighborhood bar, or a house party was a must in past years. For many, it will not occur this year and maybe has not occurred in many years.

If partying is on your mind this New Year’s Eve, perhaps the best you can do is to reflect on those days when you went to one party after another and you spent time walking the streets in party hats and blowing party horns or using noisemakers.

Perhaps you will think about the days when people drove through the streets just to observe people so drunk until they were engaged in a “running drunk.” You have to be from back in the day to recall the running drunk; a person that runs slowly on his toes to avoid falling over. There definitely will be few partygoers this year, not like New Year’s Eve, back in the day.

As we leave 2023, let us share with our loved ones some of the traditions, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that have made many of us who we are today. These practices are a part of “our story.”

Our children could benefit from the sharing of these traditions. Let us constantly demonstrate and remind by word or example, those traditions that had a profound impact on our behavior. Let us show the love and respect that were part of our everyday way of life. Let this be a major resolution, so that we can start to set the tone to return to those positive practices from back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146 The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Philadelphia Tribune.

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