Due to our melting pot heritage, Americans have a wide variety of traditions when celebrating the New Year. Two iron-clad traditions that most Americans celebrate, often in alignment with the traditions they brought with them from their country of origin, is the singing of the song Auld Lang Syne, and, here in the South, eating black-eyed peas for good luck in the coming year. But from where did these two traditions come?
Auld Lang Syne
The popularity of the song Auld Lang Synehas not lessened and new generations sing it and even put new spins on it. On YouTube, there are more than 100 recordings of it (we stopped counting there). The song is played in cities all across America, the world even, to ring in the New Year, but do you know its meaning?
Let’s start with the title. What the heck is up with that? Well, the title is Scottish Gaelic. Auld Lang Syne, composer unknown, was written in the Scots language and based on the poem of same name by national Scottish poet Robert Burns, who wrote the poem back in 1788. The literal translation of the title means ‘Old Long Since,” but rough translation is ‘for old times’ sake.’ Auld Lang Syneis, from every indication, an ancient folk song that existed before Burns ever put it to paper for the first time as a poem.
The song is can be difficult to remember. In fact, according to a study conducted in 2018 by the British supermarket Sainsbury, only three-percent of Brits know the words and even though it is a Scottish tune, only seven-percent of Scots knew the lyrics. Of millennials surveyed, only 42 percent had an inkling. We are guessing that Americans fared no better.
But many know the first verse: Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne. If nothing else, you can sing that part. Why is the song so popular for the New Year? Auld Lang Syneis a song about nostalgia and tells the story about two old friends enjoying a drink together as they recall old adventures. When we sing Auld Lang Syne, we remembering the past year and welcoming the new one, and we are remembering and honoring past relationships. The song is used during ceremonies across the world and has also been featured in many films over the years: The Gold Rushin 1925, starring Charlie Chaplin, Wee Willie Winkiein 1937, starring Shirley Temple, It’s a Wonderful Lifein 1947, starring the iconic Jimmy Stewart, and more recently, Forrest Gump(1994), Elf(2003), and Sex and the City (2008), just to name a few.
So, perhaps while you’re waiting for ‘big apple’ in New York, or the ‘giant peach’ in Atlanta to descend during the countdown, you can pop some popcorn, put your feet up and enjoy one of the many movies featuring Old Lang Syneand add this timeless song to your New Year’s traditions.
It’s not just a name of a band. Black-eyed peas is a traditional soul food, also known as Hoppin’ John, that Southerners eat on New Year’s Day for a prosperous new year, typically serviced with cornbread and side dishes like collard greens. First domesticated in West Africa and cultivated in many Asian countries, the small pea found its way to the Southern U.S., 17thcentury Virginia to be exact. It took root throughout the South after being promoted by George Washington Carver because of its high nutritional value. As to how the New Year’s tradition originated, there are several legends, the first associated with the American Civil War. According to stories, while raiding for supplies, Union soldiers left the black-eyed peas and salted pork alone, because they thought they were to feed the animals and unfit for consumption. Southerners were able to survive the winter because of that belief and black-eyed peas came to represent good luck. Some say the peas represent coins and the green collards money, while another legend is that the peas became a symbol of good luck for African-Americans who were officially emancipated on New Year’s Day, and yet another points to a Jewish origin. Whatever the origin, many Southerners can agree that black-eyed peas, a fresh pan of cornbread with cabbage, collards, and ham is a perfect meal to celebrate the New Year.