New Years Traditions from Appalachia

New Years 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 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-it’s 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. Then 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. But her family are the only ones 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 Years Day.”

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



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  • Reply
    January 1, 2017 at 10:01 am

    It’s so interesting to read about other folks’ holiday traditions! I usually go to sleep with the chickens, so it’s been a long time since I stayed up to watch the hands of a clock. But last night I suddenly awoke at 11:30PM, so I got up and saw the New Year in. My personal brand-new “tradition” is: letting the dog out and back in and wiping some of the snow off her coat, heating up a bowl of homemade broccoli soup and a piece of cranberry apple crisp, and running the dishwasher! 😉
    Happy New Year to all the Blind Pig Gang and readers!

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    January 1, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Where I came from up north (NW PA), the tradition was a pork roast and/or pork ribs stewed with sauerkraut topped with dropped spoon dumplings at the end, and served with a side of mashed potatoes. Some up there do ham and cabbage instead, the cabbage standing for money – I don’t know what the pork is for.
    But when I came down south in ’72, I found I really love the flavor of greens and black eyed peas with pork. I now cook the b/e peas and greens separately, then mix them together with add diced smoked sausage. I serve them over the a slice of cornbread in the bottom of a bowl. It’s one of our favorite winter meals, and so inexpensive.
    As for other traditions, taking down CHRISTmas decorations if you haven’t already (we have) and then how about a good old nap after dinner. Sounds good to me.
    Prayers 2016 is our very best year yet.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    ncmountainwoman – thank you for the little saying! I just love it : ) I guess the possum drop is a tradition too by now, Clay has been doing it for over 20 years. Believe it or not I have never attended the event. Way to many people for me LOL : ) Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    Amber June
    December 31, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Miss Cindy-
    I think it really depends on where you are from within the South. It is pretty safe to say that most Southerners eat black-eyed peas, greens (collards or otherwise), and cornbread. The variation comes after that, whether it is fatback or hog jowls, some kind of pork is usually associated with the meal to add flavoring and each family does it’s own thing dependent on their region and heritage.
    I grew up in Alabama using fatback and/or the remains of the Christmas ham bone. We also grew up with a slew of things to do and not to do on New Year’s Day (i.e. no housework, add a penny to the pot, no to dessert, yes to dessert, etc.)
    Some families, particularly towards the midwest and even Louisiana eat cabbage (or some form of cabbage)… these areas typically had a majority of German settlers. My Granny (who grew up in Appalachia) didn’t grow up cooking anything in particular for New Year’s, but they did carry the First Footer tradition.
    Anyway, I love the variation in the South’s New Year’s Day foods and think it is super interesting.
    Thank you, Tipper for this lovely post!

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Growing up, the meal of Black-eyed peas, Hog jawl, greens and cornbread was a every year tradition, Mama seen to it.. And it was suppose to make you healthy, wealthy and wise.. Well, I got one of the three, (healthy) and still waitin on the other two, and I hope it’s soon because I’m running out of time..

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    December 31, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    Tipper: well happy new year to you and yours. we will have tamales from the ruiz family in visalia ca. they are great . we would like to thank you for your contributions to this past year and look forward to mabe seeing you in person this coming spring at one of your shows. thanks agin for this great web site. k.o.h

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    December 31, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Covering all the culinary bases this year! Hope 2016 is a happy, healthy and prosperous year for the whole Blind Pig Gang-

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 31, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    For a long time when I was little, I thought the jowls was hog jaws. We never did eat those things, or beets or black-eyed susies, I always thought they tasted like dirt. The first time I was introduced to collards was when my oldest son-in-law told me he was raised on them. He was raised by his mama and grandma on the coast of North Carolina in a little town called Aurora.
    My daddy use to tell us a story about being off work during the Depression Years and he was playing Set-back with friends at Mint Smith’s Grocery store. One morning the door flung open and in walked one of daddy’s friends. As he walked up to the counter, Mint asked him “Clyde, I just got in some pickled hog tongues this morning, can I fix you up a batch?” Old Clyde couldn’t talk plain, but he replied “shoe no, my tife and I touldn’t tand anything that came out of an animal’s mouth, dust deve me a dozen eggs.” …Ken

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 7:33 am

    Sandra-I think that is the traditional meal for New Years-its supposed to make you healthy, wealthy, and wise for the coming year : ) Somehow my family missed out on the tradition-but it is common here in Western NC too : ) Happy New Years!

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Darlene-thank you for the comment! And yes I believe Tracys family used kerosene too-Im going to go back and change that : ) Happy New Years!

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    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.
    How many years does it take for the Brasstown Possum Drop to be a tradition?

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    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!”.
    Here in southeast TN and north GA, we do the greens, and black eyed peas, so we can have some folding money, and some change.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    December 31, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Black-eyed peas & hog jowl or bacon was what we had but it never seemed to increase our wealth–stayed as poor as Job’s turkey.
    I’ve been having trouble with sinus infections and a very sensitive tooth that MDs think is related to the sinus problem. Anyway I told the doctor yesterday that the tooth was still “quickey” and he had no idea what I was talking about. When Mama had surgery on her broken arm and the doc took the bandage off to examine it, Mama asked him if it was “dreening” . You never saw such a bewildered looking youngster.
    God bless you all! Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 31, 2015 at 11:22 am

    My folks never was into that Tradition Stuff, they went to bed with the chickens. I guess they figured that tomorrow will just be another day, and we’d still be as poor as a Church Mouse. But we did have the thing that counts…Love.
    I got some backbones and plan to add cabbage to a big pot of Soup, with all the veggies I can find added in. Happy New Year to everyone…Ken

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 31, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Tipper–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
    (4) Speaking of Old Christmas, for some Christmas did not come on December 25 but on January 6. This is connected with the fact that in the British Isles the conversion from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar did not come until the middle of the 18th century with the Calendar Act. Interestingly, ignorant folks thought the government was taking 11 days away from them and there were riots in the streets of London. Given that the folks who settled these hills were in many cases descendants of migrants from the British Isles who arrived in the New World before 1751 (date of the Calendar Act), you have an explanation for the ongoing celebration of Old Christmas and figuring New Year’s Day to be well into January.
    That’s probably about three times as much trivia as you and most of your readers want, but I fear I’ve got a great deal in the way of obscure and for many useless knowledge rolling around in my disordered mind.
    Happy New Year’s, whether on Jan. 1 or later.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    December 31, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Growing up in Southeastern Appalachia Ohio, we always ate sauerkraut and pork on New Year’s Day. The area I grew up in was largely settled by Pennsylvania Germans. I love the cultural diversity of Appalachia. I’m going to try some blackeyed peas, though. Maybe next week in the slow cooker.

  • Reply
    Pamela Moore
    December 31, 2015 at 9:56 am

    I think my mom was torn between the two sides of her family custom-wise. She always made black eyed peas, corn bread and coleslaw. Covering all the bases for good luck. Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 31, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Somehow or other the Southern traditional New Years menu either skipped where I grew up or I personally missed it. As another post said, I didn’t hear about it till I came to Georgia thirty-two years ago.
    The tradition I grew up with was the watch service. There was no stated purpose or theme. Each person brought to it what was in their own heart. I expect it was really most about a renewed commitment for the coming year. I do understand about Pap’s position. It is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he spoke of “esteeming every day alike”. That is, our walk is to be personal by design. As part of that, our thinking changes over time.
    We will have a watch service tonight. I for one will pray for the nation. We are going the wrong direction I’m saddened to say. I wonder what those who fought to establish this country would say if they could see her now.

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    December 31, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Laz-a-mercy! Tipper: I done slept late and waited around and let all them mountain folks get ahead of me – telling about them there traditions on New Year’s Eve that they do. Hit’s so simular to mine I’l’ jest refrain frum telling about what we did in the Matheson Cove. But – jest one thang – my Daddy did not allow much foolishnes going on around the home place. I’ll share jest one detail that my sweet brother did with a firecracker: He climed up on the house and lit a firecracker and then tossed it down the chimney – with us all sitting around the fireplace – listening to Daddy read from the Bible. I won’t tell you what Daddy did to that brother of mine! But you know that sweet brother still tells that story and laughs, like he hant told hit fifty times already!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 9:27 am

    I never grew up with a tradition, so I’ll just wish all readers a happy and healthy 2016! May the followers of Blind Pig continue to be there and continue to enjoy the wonderful information Tipper shares each and every day. I look forward to another wonderful year!

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    December 31, 2015 at 8:21 am

    As I have said before, my Dad is from the Unaka- Copper Creek area and my Mom was from Virginia. My Mom always cooked black-eyed peas, greens, some type of ham, and cornbread, oh yes and blackberry cobbler, for health, wealth and luck. I still fix most of that too. A person can always use a little luck, not to mention health and wealth!
    Happy New Year to the Blind Pig Gang!

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    December 31, 2015 at 8:12 am

    It’s me again! If everyone will go to website of the Old Farmers almanac they tell you how New Year’s Day is celebrated all over the world!
    Carol from east Tenbessee

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    December 31, 2015 at 8:06 am

    We have our turnip greens and black-eyed peas and a pork tenderloin ready to cook tomorrow. Never had hog jowls for New Year’s Day. Maybe that is the reason we aren’t rich!

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    December 31, 2015 at 8:05 am

    Hi! our meal at home always included black-eyed peas,greens for money, no hog jowl this year um eating some Christmas ham I put in the freezer. Corn bread is a staple too! My daddy used to dip his corn bread in a big cold glass of buttermilk. He’d always try to trick me about how cold and good the buttermilk was and to take a drink. After the first time I always took a sip and played along with him. He had fun but I went for a glass of ice tea to drink the buttermilk down.
    Here in East Tennessee our beloved Tennessee Vols are playing at high noon at the outback bowl! It’s been a while since they’ve been to as my husband says the tidybowl!
    My Georgia Bulldogs play on Saturday and without Mark Richt hard to take.,
    Happy New Year, prayers for our nation! Carol R. East Tennessee

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    December 31, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Hi, Tipper. He 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.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 31, 2015 at 7:36 am

    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.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 31, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Tipper, I have a question for readers. All my life I remember black eyed peas, greens and fat back as the traditional New Year Day meal. At some point it became black eyed peas, collard greens, and hogs jowl. The grocery store always has an abundance of fresh collard greens and hogs jowl now days. So my question is who started the collard greens and hog jowl? Was it always there and I missed it or is it something the grocery chains started/promoted?

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    December 31, 2015 at 7:24 am

    My Granny Hughes talked about fireballing. She said they used kerosene.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 31, 2015 at 7:12 am

    The traditions I read in today’s post are ones I have heard of, except the fireball one. I can’t imagine how, after the balls were set on fire, that they could fling them into the pasture. One would have to be very careful around here, since our pastures have now been unattended and full of nice brown sage growth…ha…well, the ground was still pretty wet yesterday morning. ha
    It is always football time around here. Before the children grew up, we would occasionally set off a few fireworks, but mostly we just listened and watched the sky for neighboring farms that set them off…I mean who would want to miss a final minute if one of those bowl games was to go into overtime, etc.
    Now-a-days, if we can make it and don’t doze off, we might watch the TV until the “sparkling crystal ball” countdown to midnight in New York…No possum drop around here, like Brasstown.
    On New Years Day the Christmas tree is taken down. I know some say “don’t carry over anything old into the new year”, but tradition in our family from way back has been to take it down on the first of January.
    I always have a pot of black-eyed peas cooking seasoned with streak meat or left over ham bone…can’t stand hog jowl but, if I use it, I dip it out before we eat any peas…ewwww! I have another pot cooking full of greens usually collards. After all we want those greens we eat to represent big bucks and our turnip greens were just babies to nothing this year. To go with the “pot likker” is a iron skillet of corn bread…Yummm, good eats !
    I like to watch the Rose Parade, and if our UT just happens to get chosen for a bowl game then it is football watching the rest of the day…ha For our dessert, later in the day, we finish off the rest of the “ambrosia” that was left over from Christmas and has now mulled well with the bit of Peach Brandy and fruit. Yes, I buy one of those itty bitty 50 cent bottles to flavor my ambrosia. It is my husbands family tradition to “brandy up the ambrosia”…after eatin’ a big bowl…it is nap time…ha
    Well, that’s about it for our New Years Eve and Day…ha Traditions are changing…we long ago quit going out to celebrate unless we would’ve had friends/relatives over or go to their house for a big game of “Rook”…but alas…football and old age has taken over our home!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 5:59 am

    Your thoughts about Watch Service reminded me of some of the things I pondered when I was in church as a little girl. I remember staring up at a sort of brace that went across the ceiling and wondering if that was exactly where God would reappear in the Second Coming. And it seemed like a very good reason to be in church; you’d want to be there when it happened! BUT…oh dear, what if I was at the 8 o’clock Mass and He showed up at the 9 o’clock Mass? Or even worse…what if He came to the 7 o’clock!
    Religion starts off mysterious and, to some extent, remains that way all through life, doesn’t it? 😉
    p.s. I believe the “First Foot” tradition traveled to this country with the early Celtic-origin settlers from Ireland and Britain. No idea how it started, though.
    Happy New Year’s Eve to all the Blind Pig gang!

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Growing up, our New Year’s Day meal was the black-eyed peas/greens/hog jowl-bacon. Our four kids, growing up, had the same New Year’s Day meal. Is that because I was born in Kentucky???? 🙂

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