by Amanda Silvers
I come from an ample extended family who, when I was younger, all got together to celebrate holidays, birthdays, weddings – any excuse for a party.
The winter holidays were always a frenzy of commotion, with 30-40 people taking part. The children were abundant: my mother had six, my aunt had four and my uncle had five. In addition there were other cousins, aunts, uncles, step siblings, ex-husbands, great aunts and second and third cousins.
My family, particularly my grandmother on my mother’s side, at whose household we held the holiday celebrations, enjoyed many traditions and superstitions about all sorts of things, especially Christmas and the New Year.
For instance, she said: if you don’t hang mistletoe above your front door, you’ll have bad luck. And if you do not kiss the person standing under the mistletoe, people will gossip about you. If you stand beneath the mistletoe and no one kisses you, you will not have a lover for a year.
If an unattached young man wanted to date a young woman, he could begin with a kiss under the mistletoe, and all would know his intentions were honorable. You were then considered an “item” and it was regarded almost an engagement.
The mistletoe customs were a fun and enlivening part of our holiday festivities; even when we were very young, we plotted when to get under it – trying to get the object of our desire to kiss us. This very seldom worked, because most of the time our dad or grandpa or some equally boring adult would kiss us before the inept young men got up the nerve.
Another great kissing practice is the “friendship ball,” generally made with a lemon, orange or lime and studded in some interesting and attractive manner with whole cloves.
The idea is to offer the ball to a person that you want to kiss, who then takes it, pulls out a clove with their teeth, chews it and then kisses the person who gave it to them. Then the one with the ball has the option to return it to the person that initially gave it to them, with another kiss, of course or to pass it on to another person and kiss them.
If someone offered you the kissing ball and you refused to kiss them, no one else would offer you one for the rest of the evening.
This game was fun, but more than a few conflicts were initiated when people had a tiny bit too much to drink and an individual kissed someone else’s wife or husband a few too many times or too passionately. The sparring individuals would ordinarily leave in a huff over that, but the kids found it a perfect way to emulate the “adult game” of kissing.
The New Year’s customs were regarded even more earnestly, if that were possible. We always had a special meal on New Year’s day, a sumptuous, extravagant meal, said to insure that we’d eat well the rest of the year. We toasted in the New Year together, as a family, lest one of us die during the year. We, even the kids, had champagne with strawberries, said to please the small folk into aiding us in accomplishing our desires. We toasted one another’s health, prosperity, good nature, marriage, etc. To shower good wishes on one another was necessary to insure that we’d prosper during the coming year. It has only been in the last few years that I no longer call my whole family long distance on New Year’s eve to carry on the tradition, it was that strongly ingrained in me.
More customs included that the last person to finish the meal on New Year’s day was going to get fat, or have a baby, depending on whether it was a man or woman. The first person to leave the house on New Year’s Day was supposed to kiss everyone in the house and they were to say “See ya later, alligator” before leaving the house. If one person was still asleep, or in the shower or something, the person leaving was to wait.
My grandmother, Ma Mère, was the one who was the fanatic about superstitions, and they carried over into everything, but the Christmas and New Year’s holidays customs were clearly the best. I endeavor to begin an amusing new tradition each year. You may want to use some of these or think of a festive new one for this year, and don’t forget the mistletoe!