Appalachia Folklore Holidays in Appalachia

New Year Traditions from Appalachia


New Year’s has its traditions and customs just like all the other holidays. The most well known is the traditional kiss at midnight and coming in a close second are the hard to stick to resolutions folks make.

Churches in my part of Appalachia often ring in the New Year by praying for the coming year. The annual event is called a Watch Service.

When I was a little girl I thought Watch Services were to make sure the redeemed were gathered together just in case the New Year didn’t ring in after all.

The services are actually used to show thankfulness for the year that will soon be behind us and to offer prayers for the coming year to be a blessed one. Even though I’ve heard about the services my whole life, I’ve never been to one that I can remember. Pap was never interested in staying up that late at church. He figured thankfulness and prayer, while much needed, could be done just as well before bedtime.

Shooting guns and setting off fireworks as the New Year rolls in is common practice in my neck of the woods.

The John C. Campbell Folk School has the odd tradition of shooting a pair of boxer shorts out of a cannon as midnight draws near. I’ve been there to see it, but I’ve never known exactly why they do it.

Tracy is one of my best friends from childhood. She now lives way across the country in Montana but when we were growing up she lived just over the mountain in Pine Log. Tracy’s family had the fascinating tradition of fire balling on New Year’s Eve. They made balls out of old rags and then soaked them in kerosene or something flammable-I can’t remember for sure what they used.

On the big night they lit them and flung them across the field. I still mourn the fact that I never witnessed the event. Tracy’s family line goes back as far as mine does in this area and even intertwines with mine along the way. Her family is the only one I ever knew that fire balled on New Year’s Eve.

Gary Carden introduced me to the old Appalachian tradition called the First Footer. If the first person to set foot in your house after the New Year arrives is a tall dark haired man you’re sure to have good luck for the coming year.

Another common tradition is eating a big helping of black-eyed peas, greens, and hog jowls to ensure you’re healthy, wealthy, and wise for the coming year. Somehow I missed out on that tradition too, only learning about it as an adult. When I told Granny about the traditional meal she said “Well no wonder we never had no money we never eat the right thing on New Year’s Day.”

Over the years Blind Pig Readers have shared interesting tid-bits about New Year traditions. Here’s a few of them.

  • NCMountainWoman: I remember following the shooters and greeters in Cherryville around to welcome the New Year. They chant outside the door and the chant is very long. Here’s the older shorter version:
    “Here we stand before your door,
    As we stood the year before;
    Give us whiskey; give us gin,
    Open the door and let us in.”
    Supposedly the tradition dates back to 1300.
  • Bob: In my younger years, an old flame, she was a country gal, used to say, “What ever you are doing at Midnight on New Years Eve, is what you’ll be doing ALL Year!”.
  • Jim Casasa: Some other New Year’s-connected traditions include:
    (1) Anvil jumping (using gunpowder to “shoot” an anvil skyward)
    (2) Firing blackpowder guns into the air
    (3) Turning the Yule log, which was supposed to last until the celebration of Old Christmas
  • Janet Smart: We have the tradition here in West Virginia of eating cabbage on New Years Day. The stores always have an abundance of it and usually put it on sale. Mom would put silver (such as a silver dime) in the bowl of cabbage. The person who scooped out the dime with their cabbage would be prosperous in the coming new year, Grandma always made sure the first one to set foot in her house on New Years was a male. And, I always attended Watch Services at church when I was growing up.
  • Ethelene Dyer Jones: We had a belief on the farm about New Year’s Day. The first visitor to your door on New Year’s day determined the sex of all offspring for the coming year associated with that household: If a man or boy, then all the calves, pigs, puppies, kitties born would be male; likewise, they would be female if your first visitor were a woman or girl. That held true of any baby born to the family. I really didn’t follow through to see if this old belief held or not. So far as the New Year’s meal, we followed to a “T” the blackeyed peas and greens, but sometimes substituted other pork (like baked ham) for the “hog jowl” which was terribly fat and not so tasty.

If you’ve got other New Years traditions please leave a comment and tell us about them.


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  • Reply
    January 1, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    My friend said her mother used to sweep the kitchen floor on New Year’s Day, scoop up about a teaspoon of the ‘dirt’, tie it up in a small piece of cloth, then put it away in a kitchen drawer. She said it would ensure that you would have money all year. We wonder if anyone else has heard of this New Year’s Day tradition? We’re from Southeast Tennessee.

  • Reply
    January 1, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    We usually have a corn salsa mix which includes black-eyed peas. Unfortunately (no put intended) I didn’t get it made this year. We used to have “Watchnight” parties are church on New Years Eve with most folks playing cards, dominoes, and board games while munching on snacks. The kids would run around outside unless the weather was messy (this was near the tip of Texas); otherwise, we ran around inside and annoyed those playing games. Then we got a dentist in our neck of the woods and he had a film projector and lots of cartoons on film. We kids may not have liked what happened to our teeth after seeing a dentist for the first time in however many years we had lived but we sure liked it when he set up that projector and let us watch cartoons and drink orange soda pop!! (Was he drumming up more business?)
    In recent years, where we live now, we’ve discovered that some area churches hold “Watchnight” services after Christmas Eve Candle light Services to “welcome Jesus” on Christmas Day. That’s new to me.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    December 31, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    Happy New Tipper and all the Blind pig gang I have heard what you do like hard work on New Day your be working hard all year. I will cook greens and pea but don’t eat pork but I will try to lounge around . 2018 was a hard work year I like to lounge the coming 2019

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    December 31, 2018 at 6:26 pm

    Happy New Year to you all! We always have black-eyed peas, greens cornbread, meat, and I can remember my Mom saying something about blackberries (we have cobbler).

  • Reply
    Judy Wright
    December 31, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    I really enjoyed all this post. Found you by accident.

  • Reply
    December 31, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    Tipper, just at my other job this morning, the secretary said are you going to fix hog jowls and black eyed peas. I said no , i ‘ll be working. I don’t like black eyed peas. We will be having watch service tonight. Happy New Year to you all. God Bless! Our Revival has being going on now for 2 wks but i think tonight is the last night.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Christensen Bennett
    December 31, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    I don’t know if other parts of the country do this but in California, at the stroke of midnight we go outside and bang on pots and pans. People also shoot off fireworks and guns but it is illegal because we live in the city and what goes up must come down and houses/people are close together.

  • Reply
    betty stephenson
    December 31, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    hi happy new year to all

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 31, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Daddy used to cure hog jowls just like bacon. They were sliced and fried like bacon. They tasted like bacon only better.

    You talked about corn meal mush made with yellow corn meal the other day. Someone commented about not being able to find it in stores. I had been buying it locally ground. I found some at Ingles a few days back made by Quaker. It has a recipe for corn meal mush on the back. I googled it and it is easy to find online. Target has is for $1.69 for a 24 oz. with free shipping if you buy $35.00 or more from them.

  • Reply
    Brian P.T. Blake
    December 31, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Happy New Year to Tipper and her loyal band of Blind Pig followers! This season brings to mind the old Roman celebration of “Saturnalia”, a time of feasting, role reversals, gift giving and gambling. Why not?

  • Reply
    December 31, 2018 at 11:29 am

    As far back as I can remember, we ate black eyed peas, greens, with fatback and of course, cornbread on New Year’s day. I plan on doing the same tomorrow. Plus, I love black eyed peas and greens. My husband’s father, of Irish and English ethnicity, grew up in Chicago and they always fired their shotguns up into the air at midnight.
    It seems like I remember “Watch Services” mentioned way back in my grandmother’s day but it is a faint memory. I love the old Christmas Card picture you have above.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 31, 2018 at 10:56 am

    I didn’t know there were so many traditions about New Years. In our family we never did anything but go to a watch service. Because our church was not near any houses, we didn’t really see or hear any other traditions. But I think some people shot their guns or set off fireworks. We were too far north to have collard greens and even field peas were not common then.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    December 31, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Black eyed peas, collards and fatback preferred over Hog Jowels.

  • Reply
    December 31, 2018 at 9:21 am

    I love New Year’s after Christmas. It gives one the opportunity to east good luck food and keep things simple. The North and South seem to have different traditions of good luck food. I always have some sort of cabbage or coleslaw, and black eyed peas is always on the menu. I found many years ago that cooking a lot of black eyed peas in the snap stage was a tasty version of the peas. They taste even better than snap beans in my opinion. Since one cannot buy them in my area, I always grew and froze a few batches until last year. The Yellow Jackets love those things so much I had to pick after dark. I got my grandson to try a taste of the shelled type this year,even though he says he wants good luck he was not impressed by the taste. I may have to do ribs for his good luck.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    December 31, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Your blog made me wonder where all this started since we eat collard greens, black eyed peas and pork on new years. I found this good discussion on google.

    My cousin sent me home in November with 3 collards so that we would have greens for new years day. I can’t say it has been good for luck, but it sure makes a good meal that I welcome any day of the year.

    In Ohio everyone has the cabbage and brats. German heritage.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 31, 2018 at 8:20 am

    We had the German side of the family tradition of pork and Sour krout. We also had something made from apples on the side or for dessert. Usually applesauce, apple pie or apple crisp.

  • Reply
    December 31, 2018 at 8:05 am

    In East Texas we burned onion skins in the fireplace and eat black-eyed peas for good luck. Even today (Austin, TX) in some neighborhoods rifles are fired into the air at midnight. From Mexican friends I learned of the custom ( originated in Spain) of eating twelve grapes at midnight for good luck in each of the coming twelve months. That custom seems to be taking hold in Texas.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 31, 2018 at 7:42 am

    Black eyed Peas, Collard Greens, and Hog Jowls or Fatback. Those are the things My family ate. It was to bring health, wealth and happiness for the coming year. I’m not sure these things brought a better year but it did bring the family together for a meal on New Year’s Day with a positive thought of family togetherness and prosperity. There was also fire works on New Year’s Eve.
    The old New Year’s Card pictured above has the two pigs on it. They represented prosperity, the fat of the land.

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