Metro-East Living

Area residents welcome the new year with a variety of traditions

Keba Jones, 35, of St. Louis, picks up some essential items to prepare a traditional New Year’s Day meal that is common in the South. Black-eyed peas are seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity for the new year. Eating them on Jan. 1 will ensure good health and an abundance of wealth in the new year.
Keba Jones, 35, of St. Louis, picks up some essential items to prepare a traditional New Year’s Day meal that is common in the South. Black-eyed peas are seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity for the new year. Eating them on Jan. 1 will ensure good health and an abundance of wealth in the new year.

You don’t have to look far in the metro-east to find global and regional traditions that welcome 2017.

The first day of a new year is a symbolic time around the world to contemplate, plan and celebrate what is to come. A wide assortment of people —from countries as far-flung as Taiwan and England to India and Panama — live in the area, as do residents who have moved from other parts of the United States.

All have brought with them — though not all still follow — traditions, superstitions and beliefs about how to help make the new year a better one.


Keba Jones, 35, was born in Mississippi and grew up in East St. Louis. But her family continued their Southern traditions when it came to celebrating the new year.

Keba now lives in St. Louis and is passing those traditions down to her 14-year old daughter, Naisia, who attends a boarding school in Decatur.

Black-eyed peas is a traditional New Year’s Day meal for many Southerners.

“Cooking black-eyed peas brings health to the chef and wealth to the people who eat them,” she said.

Another tradition is to place a single black-eyed pea in your wallet and keep it there throughout the year for a financial windfall. Keba says she does this annually, but sometimes loses track of the pea when she’s switching purses.

All laundry must be washed, dried and put away before the end of the current year, too.

“When you wash clothes at the beginning of the year, you run the risk of washing someone out of your life. Meaning someone could pass away,” said Keba. Her family believes that is is not safe to wash clothes until Jan. 8.

Before entering your home in the new year, a man must walk through the door first, she added. This will protect the home and family from harm.

Keba is looking forward to starting her own business in the new year, and “I just want to have more time to help people in need. My daughter is a teenager now, and I need to spend as much time with her as possible because before I know it, she’ll be off to college and living on her own.”


Anita Yen, 28, of Taiwan came to America in 2015 on a student visa to attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She has celebrated many holidays in the United States, and in 2017 she will participate in two different new year’s celebrations, the one on Jan. 1 and the Chinese New Year on Jan. 28. The Chinese New Year begins on the day of the new moon and lasts for 15 days. Each day has its own tradition, but the entire celebration is based around family bonding, religion, food and good fortune.

Chinese New Year’s Eve is celebrated by eating dinner with extended family members, such as grandparents, siblings and their families. It is tradition that the oldest male child host the dinner, and that his wife and sisters-in-law prepare the food.

In order to see the prosperity of the new year, everyone has to stay awake throughout the night. No one is allowed to sleep until after breakfast is served on the first day of the new year, said Anita.

Fireworks are set to ward off evil spirits and to protect the family from harm during the year.

The entire house is cleaned from top to bottom in order to clear away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck.

Windows and doors are covered with red paper cut-outs that have the words “longevity, wealth, happiness, good fortune” written in gold paint.

Anita graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville last May with a master’s of science in mass communication. Her plans for the new year are to find a job in journalism and afterward go through the naturalization process to become an American citizen.

“I worked at a newspaper back in Taiwan, but the government had restrictions on everything we wrote.” said Anita about working in journalism in Taiwan, “I would like to work for a fashion or lifestyle magazine somewhere in a major city like New York. Somewhere that has a Chinatown or some things that are familiar to my culture.”


Zia Hasan Ansari, 28, is a graduate student at SIUE from New Delhi, India. Ramsha Durrani, 19, is an undergraduate and Pakistani-American. Both are Muslim.

Zia has also lived in Saudi Arabia when he worked for an American company as an engineer. For the new year, he will be home in India with his three brothers and family.

Ramsha has an older sister and two older brothers here in the U.S. Her parents are back in Pakistan, after spending several years in California to settle their children here.

The Ansari family plans to enjoy fireworks on New Year’s Eve in New Delhi.

Ramsha said, “Back home (in Pakistan) they do fireworks, and when we moved here ... do the same thing, just with family.”

Asked about traditions or activities to bring luck or prosperity to the new year, she said that “just goes out the window. ... People do not believe in superstitions,” instead relying on their Muslim faith.

Zia said he had a certain jacket, which he wore at a happy event and for a job interview. Then he realized that he was starting to associate the jacket with good fortune, and he had to get rid of it.

“It was weakening my faith,” he said.

International Women’s Club

Four women who are part of the International Women’s Club, based in Madison County, took part in telling us about their new year traditions:

Panama — The people in Esther Greathouse’s old neighborhood in Panama celebrate New Year’s Eve by getting together for a potluck meal.

The spread always includes empanadas (similar to calzones), Spanish rice, homemade breads and tamales filled with cornmeal and chicken rolled in banana leaves.

“Someone roasts a pig in a big outdoor fireplace,” said Esther, a retired secretary who moved to the United States 40 years ago and now lives in Pontoon Beach. “The weather is nice, so you can barbecue year-round.”

At midnight, everyone heads over to the Catholic church for Mass before watching a New Year’s Eve ceremony at a park or in someone’s yard.

“They get a dummy of an old man, and they burn it,” Esther said. “Then they bring a baby doll and put it in a baby crib, and they sing and play music. That represents a new year.”

What do people do on New Year’s Day? Go to the beach.

England — People in England celebrate New Year’s Eve much like people in the United States, according to Gloria Lyons, 75, of Collinsville, a retired product demonstrator who moved here 50 years ago.

They go out to eat with family or friends, and at midnight in London, they ring church bells and shoot off fireworks over Fountain Square.

But Gloria also remembers making Christmas crackers, which are cardboard tubes covered with holiday paper, tied on both ends like candy wrappers and filled with gifts, hats and sayings.

“When you grab each end and pull it apart, it cracks (because of a cap-gun-like strip), and all the stuff falls out,” she said.

New Year’s Day is a time for visiting friends and family in homes.

Korea — Linda Elliot didn’t really celebrate New Year’s Eve in her native Korea. On New Year’s Day, her family made sweet rice cake soup before going to visit family.

“The younger children would bow to their elders, and the elders gave them a little money,” said Linda, 78, of O’Fallon, who has lived in the United States for 54 years and is retired from the Dillard’s china department. “That’s about all they did.”

Russia — Halyna Zitta left her Russian homeland at age 4 during World War II and moved to Germany, but her family continued Russian traditions.

On New Year’s Eve, they attended an Ukrainian Eastern Orthodox church service before supper at home. After the meal, they served a warm fruit punch and talked about what they liked and didn’t like about the past year and what they wished for the new year.

“It was more of a quiet time,” said Halyna, a home health care worker who moved to the United States in 1966 and now lives in Highland. “Not at all like here.”

On New Year’s Day, the family returned to church, where the priest would lead a service next to an altar sculpted from ice. “Then doves would be let go to fly away,” Halyna said.