1.2.2022 [archived ~ originally published 1.1.2015]
Most of us are familiar with New Year’s traditions of resolutions, the countdown, “Auld Lange Syne” and fireworks. There are televised broadcasts that show celebrations as they are happening around the world. One tradition in the family I married into is that if you find living flies in your home on New Year’s Day it will be a prosperous new year. And even in wintery Minnesota, we sometimes do.
I have learned that certain foods are eaten for luck on New Year’s Eve or day such as black-eyed peas. In Spain one grape is eaten for each toll of the bell at midnight. In Italy it is one spoonful of lentil soup for the twelve chimes. Either brings good fortune as the round shape of the grapes and lentils represents coins. Incidentally black-eyed peas also symbolize prosperity because they swell so much when cooked.
In Greece it is tradition to eat vassilopita or King’s pie which contains a coin. Of course, whoever gets the coin in their piece of pie is sure to have good luck in the coming year. The person who finds a small China doll in their la galette des rois, a puff pastry filled with almond paste, in France becomes king or queen and gets to wear a gold crown for two whole weeks.
Wearing red underwear is a New Year’s tradition in Spain and Italy. Hmm, I wonder if that is why the original union suits were red…a future article, I think! A Russian tradition is to keep silent for the last twelve seconds of the year and make your secret wishes for the next year.
One of the most intriguing traditions I have come across is from an interview with 70-year-old Cliff Niemala in 1996 when he talks briefly of casting metal fortunes. The interviewer, Elmer Mattila was one of several local historians interested in capturing the memories of folks that had settled in the communities north of Deer River. In January of that year, Elmer turned on his tape recorder and began asking Cliff questions about many aspects of his life. (The taped interview and transcription are at the Itasca County Historical Society as part of an extensive collection of oral histories.)
“They used to melt lead or silver of some kind. I suppose it was lead” Cliff said in response to Elmer’s question about traditions brought from the old country. Cliff explained that his father, Charlie came from Finland to Minnesota when he was only 6 years old. His mother Anna, also from Finland, was not much older when her family made the voyage. Charlie and Anna met, married, and started a family in Menahga, Minnesota and then moved in the Oteneagen area in 1925.
Cliff recalled that the lead came in bars and on New Year’s Eve under the supervision of adults, they would melt it and then toss it in cold water. The hardened metal would be examined, and fortunes told based on the figure. I have asked around but have not found anyone who still does this.
An online search provided the following information: Uudenvuodentina or the casting of metal is still done in Finland on New Year’s Eve. Everyone gets a small piece of lead, cast in the figure of a miniature horseshoe. The horseshoe is melted, and the liquid metal poured quickly in a bucket of cold water, making it harden into a more or less irregular-shaped, solid clump.
The shape and shadow of the resulting cast are examined and interpreted to predict the various future events of the coming year. The figures are often interpreted not only literally, but also symbolically: a bubbly surface refers to money, a fragile or broken shape misfortune. Ships refer to travel, keys to career advancement, a basket means a good mushroom year, and a horse means a new car.
Several years ago, I bought a cast iron ladle at an estate sale, and it will work perfectly for me to melt some old sinkers or wheel weights. I am eager to see what I learn. As for the flies, I did have some dancing against the window just before Christmas, so I hope a few more hatch out this week!
The Finnish tradition is interesting, but I have never wanted my fortune to be told. I’d hate to get the fragile or broke shape and wonder all year long what bad thing was going to happen to me!