It's New Year’s Eve, and there’s a big bowl full of black-eyed peas soaking on my kitchen counter.
Every New Year's for the last 10 years, I've seen my wife cook these beans along with a big pot of greens — collards, mustard, turnip or kale. She tells me that people eat this for good luck in the New Year, especially in the southern United States. It's a tradition she picked up while we lived in Virginia, and added that tradition to the sauerkraut that permeates her memory of childhood New Year's celebrations in Pennsylvania.
I thought about it for a second and tried to recall whether my mother cooked any special food or followed any traditions to welcome the New Year. When I tried to remember what we did on New Year’s Eve, nothing came to mind — I drew a blank. All I could think of was watching special Bollywood dance shows on TV until midnight and then going to sleep.
A lot of my friends, relatives and neighbors think of January 1 as the beginning of the New Year, even though, according to the Hindu calendar, New Year’s Day falls in November. The festival of lights, Diwali, marks the Hindu New Year. My family would paint our house, clean everything, and put small oil lamps — called diyas — outside our home to welcome the Goddess of wealth, Laxmi, into our home to bring good luck and prosperity to the family. On the night of the festival, friends and family would drop by with boxes of homemade snacks and mithai, which are a cross between dessert and confections. I remember my mother spending hours in her kitchen during Diwali, making food from beans, lentils and chickpea flour.
Living in the United States for a decade, I've realized that the New Year in America means a lot of different things to different people. It means the end to the holiday season, festivities, vacations, the individual income tax year — and over-indulgence in food.
Today I woke up to my radio alarm clock and heard the weather advisory for a possible snow storm. Then I saw the date — December 31 — and I knew what New Year's Eve really means to me right now, living near the shores of Lake Michigan. I can look forward to just three or four more months of winter.