Our family is untraditional, in the traditional sense; if that makes sense. I don’t have cousins that I know terribly well, divorce isn’t rare and our homes are pretty far apart. This may be common nowadays, but for a family that tends to yearn for Norman Rockwell moments, we are anything but. We do however have traditions that many of us keep. I thought about this during this New Year’s weekend; because I doubt any of us know the root of the annual rituals we devote ourselves to on January 1st each year. All I know is that we do it because Mom did it, her Mom did it and her Mom did it.
New Year’s Eve:
Mom: “Did you put your quarters out?”
Of course I did. Every NYE that I can remember, we put quarters in our window sill because it was supposed to bring monetary luck for the coming year. Often we just left them all year and maybe added one to up the ante. After a little research, it turns out it’s an Italian tradition. My pale skin and avid ancestry research will tell you we have zero Italian blood. I also didn’t know the coins are supposed to be shiny new ones dated that year. Whoops. Someone left out that detail, but so far I don’t think it has harmed our bank account. You can guarantee I will do it correctly next year, to make my German-Hungarian Great-Grandmom proud.
In the homes throughout our family, you’ll also find a crockpot with pork and sauerkraut. This one seemed a little bit more popular amongst our heritage. The pig can symbolize many things, including progress and prosperity. By making it the vital part of New Year’s Day meal, the pork brings you luck for the year ahead, a good dinner and a slightly stinky kitchen. At least we didn’t confuse things too much and put pork on the window sill and throw coins into our dinner.
The third and personally the most vital piece to New Year’s Day, is the Mummers parade. I thought it was so goofy when I was a child. My parents aren’t fans of crowds, but the parade held its place on the TV from 8am to 8pm each New Year’s Day. In Philadelphia, there’s really nothing more Philadelphian you can partake in, unless you are Rocky and run the Art Museum steps actually eating a cheesesteak, chasing it with a Birch Beer.
Mummers themselves date back to the late 1600’s, but had its official Philadelphian start in 1901. It’s actually fascinating to understand the Greek and Celtic history and see how it has evolved. It is taken very seriously by the Mummers themselves and is quite an extravagant event, where men first dressed as women but it is anything but cross-dressing. It is pure showman ship, with a year’s worth of work and expensive dues to be in a Mummer club. There is nothing like the sound of the string bands plucking away at “O, Dem Golden Slippers”, the unofficial song of Mummery.
For about seven years, when I lived in California, my Mom and I actually watched the 2000 Mummers parade we had on VHS, since it is not a nationally broadcasted parade. My Step-Dad and now husband really didn’t get it. We didn’t blame them, and watching the same parade did get old, but a New Year’s without Mummers just didn’t feel right. When my husband and I moved back East, I convinced him to partake in his first parade. I’m happy to say that once he was bundled up on Broad St., with Mummer horn in hand, he got it. It is simply too fun of an experience to deny. We happily had our 4th consecutive Mummer’s Day, strut and all and hope to one day start a club of our own.