New Year, Old Ways: Celebrating New Years in the Hoodoo Tradition
Happy Holy Days, family!
2020 is coming to a close and it’s been one hell of a decade this year! As we move into a new year, with hopes and prayers for better days, many of us are being encouraged to lean back into the wisdom and the medicine of our ancestors. As we are making our resolutions, setting our goals, saying our prayers, and casting our hopes- we can draw power from the old ways. The traditions of our people were passed on to us for healing, support, good fortune and good juju!
The customary acts of bringing in new seasons and new eras in the company of family and friends, with community feasts, prayers, music, and rituals that are meant to yield a specific result or outcome, has been a part of African traditions for as long as we know. Celebrating New Years in the Hoodoo Tradition is a continuation of those customs. From the traditional foods to the prophetic church services, the rites of passage to the countdown celebrations- New Years has proven to be one of the most notable of Hoodoo Holy Days.
Through the Years
The history of New Years for enslaved African people in America is complex. Though it began as a day of tragedy and heartache, the African-American fight for freedom helped transform it into a day of triumph and celebration.
Up until the early 1800s, New Years was a grim day for enslaved Africans in America. In many parts of the country, January 1st was the day on which debts were collected and slave contracts were started or completed. On this day, enslaved African-Americans received word of who would be “hired” (without pay), traded or rented out to new masters, and often, separated from their families.
“Of all days in the year, the slaves dread New Year’s Day the worst of any,” an enslaved man named Lewis Clarke recounted in 1842.
New Years Eve was a day full of anxiety and worry as our enslaved ancestors waited to know their fate. Would they be sold, traded or rented to a new owner? If so, for how long? Would their families go with them? Would they be separated? For those looking to escape from a cruel owner, there was hope in the New Year. Maybe they could be sold off to a more gracious owner. Or would they have to spend another year being terrorized by their current masters? For mothers, husbands, brothers, lovers, and close friends alike- the fears of separation and of being placed in a cruel environment hung over them like storm clouds rolling in on a sunny day.
So often those fears would be sustained. Mothers would be torn from their children, brothers broken apart. Lovers would be snatched away, never to be seen again. African American journalist, activist, and abolitionist, William Cooper Nell, called this day “Heartbreak Day.”
The 1700s and 1800s were full of revolts, resistance, and advancements for the African-American people. Much of the abolition work in North America was being led by the Black Church, which educated, congregated, and helped organize black leaders and movements. This work was enhanced by capitalistic factors and the ever-growing campaigns for morality and humanitarianism, led by abolitionists and anti-slavery evangelicals. New Years Day 1808 marked a major milestone in our struggle for freedom. On January 1, 1808, the act to “prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States" went into effect, and thus the trans-atlantic slave trade was officially banned.
Although the abolition of slavery did not come for another 55 years, the trans-atlantic slave trade ban “was the first time that Congress stigmatized, at least, an aspect of slavery as immoral, illegitimate and worthy of being prohibited,” (Foner). For enslaved Africans, New Years Day 1808 marked a major step taken toward realizing the vision of freedom from slavery.
From Tragedy to Triumph
Throughout the 18th century, abolitionist movements flourished, leading the resistant southern states to viciously defend their States rights to expand the institution of slavery rather than abolish it. This led to the Civil War, and eventually to the issuance of the first Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862. In this proclamation, Abraham Lincoln stated that if the Confederate states refused to join the Union, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The proclamation was set to go into effect, and potentially free the enslaved, on January 1, 1863.
On December 31, 1862 enslaved Africans gathered in churches, in private homes, “under prayer trees,” and in other secret meeting locations to await the message that would inform them of their near future. The hope, the prayer, was that Abraham Lincoln, would stand firm on his Emancipation Proclamation, which was set to go into effect the following day.
In The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Douglass reported that there was a “line of messengers” ready to deliver the news from the telegraph office to the church house. He wrote that December 31, 1862 was “a day for poetry and song, a new song. These cloudless skies, this balmy air, this brilliant sunshine, (making December as pleasant as May), are in harmony with the glorious morning of liberty about to dawn up on us.” Many of our ancestors, enslaved and free, stayed awake all night-- praying, singing, praising, speaking, comforting, anticipating the news that was to come. When they heard what Douglass referred to as “the trump of jubilee,” their “joy and gladness exhausted all forms of expression… from shouts of praise to sobs and tears.”
New Years Eve became known to some as “Freedom’s Eve” and New Years Day as “The Day of Jubilee.” We honor them both today, and those ancestors who led us toward that great day, as well as those who were there to see it come. We honor where we have come since then. And how much further into freedom we get to go.
Foods for Freedom (& Good Juju)
Perhaps the most widely observed aspect of Hoodoo New Year’s Customs is the cooking and serving of traditional New Year's foods. While some sources will call these culinary customs, “southern traditions,” they are most notably African traditions, carried on and diversified by African-Americans, and are as culturally significant as they are regionally significant.
There are three primary staple foods that are cooked for New Years in African-American households across the United States: black eyed peas, leafy greens (collards & cabbage are most common), and cornbread. Other foods such as sweet potatoes, meats, and rice are often served with these foods. While many African-American households will regard these food choices as simply “black culture,” it is too a continuation of our Hoodoo roots and our homeland traditions. Each of these foods are cooked with intention and have both cultural and spiritual significance. They serve a specific purpose, each aiding us in our strive for good fortune and favor in the New Year.
Black eyed peas were brought to the United States along with enslaved Africans during the trans-atlantic slave trade. Their resemblance to penny coins and their significance as a native African food were *worked* by our ancestors to bring us good fortune in the New Year.
In the Carolinas and across the south, there is a traditional dish called Hoppin John that is often served on New Year Eve & Day. It originally consisted of red beans, field peas or cow peas, animal fats and white rice. Nowadays, a variation of this dish is served with black eyed peas, animal fats and white rice. While proposed origins of the name of this dish vary, it is commonly believed that Hoppin John was a crippled man who sold black eyed peas and rice on the streets of Charleston, and that the dish was named after him.
Collard Greens and Cabbage are two Hoodoo New Years staples. These rich, green foods represent dolla dolla bills, ya’ll! They are also worked* and served to bring good fortune in the New Years.
Cornbread is often served with black eyed peas and collard greens. It represents gold and brings success and good luck.
Other foods such as sweet potatoes and okra, and meats such as fried chicken, oxtails, chitlins, and ham hocks, are commonly served along with these foods and each bring their own special juju to the table!
It’s important to note that the juju is not just in the food itself. Anyone can buy and serve these foods. No, the juju is found within the cultural ways that African-Americans relate through the preparing, working* and serving of traditional food. It is in our relationship to and honoring of the plants & animals we are preparing. It is in the family recipe, in the kitchen experience, in the prayer spoken at the dinner table. It is in the seasoning, in the fellowship, in the conversations that happen as we feast. It’s in the dance, in the song, in the way we celebrate death, rebirth, and new cycles. The juju that brings us good fortune still to this day, is in the remembrance of our ancestors, and in the observance of their traditions.
Rites of Passage
Another widely observed aspect of Hoodoo New Years Traditions are the rites of passage. These are the rituals that we work* to yield good fortune and good health in the New Year. While there are so many different rituals, and each one varies, there are a few that are quite common and well-known across different regions and households.
Perhaps the most common New Years rites you’ll find amongst Hoodoos, are the household cleansing rituals. We are pretty serious about bringing the New Year in to a clean home. It’s extremely taboo to go into the New Year with an unclean home and is a recipe for a filthy, unfavorable year.
The week before New Year's Day is usually spent organizing, getting rid of things, washing the floors, cleaning out the corners, wiping down mirrors and windows and doors, and making sure the trash has been taken out so loved ones don’t get thrown away in the New Year! All of these are necessary tasks to complete well before the clock strikes 12!
Along with cleansing the home comes cleansing the pocketbook! Entering the New Year with a freshly cleaned, cleansed, and anointed pocketbook, wallet, and whatever else you carry your money and valuables in, is a good way to welcome in new money and new blessings!
If you want to avoid washing a loved one clean outta your life, you’d better get all that laundry done before New Year's Day! In many households, you should never wash clothes on the last Friday of the year. Along with having clean clothes, it’s also good luck to wear something new into the New Year so that you can guarantee more new things will come to you throughout the year.
The Money Walk is a New Years Tradition that is popular across many African-American households. A household or community member is appointed to be the first to walk through a home on New Years Day with money in their pocket. In many homes, this first person must be a male. Extra points if this person has both dollars and coins in their pocket. In some homes, it must be in the right pocket! A male being the first to walk in the house will help avoid drama in the New Year. A male or appointed person walking in with money in their right pocket will bring in prosperity.
These are just a FEW of the most common and most openly talked about Hoodoo Rituals for bringing in a prosperous New Year. There are many, many more that have been kept on the hush hush either by the community as a whole or by individual households and lineages. Let’s keep it that way! Share your rituals with those in your community who are committed to preserving them, and be open to creating (remembering) rituals that are good for releasing and cleansing, road opening and clearing, drawing good fortune, and keeping your protections up.
The significance of New Years Eve & Day for Hoodoos runs deep! What began as a day of mourning became a day of jubilee and has now become a day of great remembrance, celebration, and the honoring of ancestral traditions. As we step out of this looooong, long year with hopes of a better 2021-- let us be open to the loving, luckful assistance of those who came before us, those who helped pave the way for us to continue on our path to total freedom and liberation.
Old Year Reflections, New Year Projections
As we enter 2021, here are some things that we can all think about and set intentions to receive guidance and clarity on:
- What do I want to bring into this New Year?
- What must I leave behind?
- What are my goals for 2021?
- How do my goals align with my purpose?
- What are 3 steps I can take in the first 3 months to achieve them? What will I need to do each month of 2021 to reach my goals?
- How will I better serve and connect with my community in 2021?
- How will I strengthen my connection to my ancestors and guiding spirits in 2021?
Homework for Hoodoos
- Listen to No More Auction Block by Ella Jenkins in honor of the ancestors who endured “Heartbreak Day.”
- Read Chapter XII of The Life & Times of Frederick Douglass, which recounts Freedom’s Eve 1862! Read it here: Chapter 12: Hope for a Nation
- Sweet potatoes and okra are often served on New Years. What kinda good juju do you think these foods bring to the table? Think about it. Ask ya folks.
- Answer the Old Year Reflections, New Years Projections Questions
1) The Hoodoo & Good Juju Botanica will be restocking on January 1st! We will be having a storewide New Years sale! If you have not already signed up for our mailing list, scroll down to the bottom of this page and sign up! All Members get a coupon code and first dibs on restock items! (Scroll down to Quick Links to SHOP)
2) There are 13 spaces open for Playing Card Divination and for Rootwork & Herbal Consultations in the month of January. Each month of 2021 will offer 20 spaces. Once those spaces fill up, booking for that month will be closed. (Scroll down to Quick Links for SERVICES)
3) The Conjure Collective screening process has begun! If you have not heard from one of the Admin, expect to hear from one of us soon. We will be contacting you with a link to our questionnaire and will be following up with phone interviews. Our first Conjure Collective virtual and in-person gatherings will be held in January 2021.
Happy New Year Hoodoos! I am wishing you an abundance of blessings, favor, love, healing, and prosperity. Drop a comment! I'd love to hear from you.