Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year. Rice for riches and peas for peace. So goes the saying about Hoppin’ John, the classic Low Country dish of rice and peas that’s a New Year’s day tradition in the South. Consuming a plateful is thought to guarantee a prosperous year filled with good fortune. The peas symbolize coins and the greens served on the side—usually collards—recall good old dollar bills. Add cornbread and you’ve got gold. Culinary gold, anyway.
As much as I cling to the idea of a random universe, I'm actually pretty superstitious. I've lived my life in fear of tempting the Fates: Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who chooses one's lot in life and measures how long it will be; and Atropos, who with her shears cuts the thread of life. Like some old gypsy woman, I avoid calling attention to my good fortune or the things I covet most because I dread attracting the evil eye. I remember my mother telling me about a moment she had, an ordinary Northern California moment of driving the car along a sunny road, when she was seized with the notion that her life was so wonderful—perfect, really—and then felt a chill pass over her heart as she realized this must be too good to be true. Shortly thereafter, my father's stomach cancer announced itself and my mother's own battle with a benign tumor on her spine kicked into high gear.
I masquerade as a rational being, but deep within I harbor superstitions worthy of a medieval sorceress. I hold my breath and lift my feet when we drive over railroad tracks. I say "rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" first thing on the first of every month. Because if there is such a thing as luck, I want some. What directs your hand to that winning ticket? Guides you into the path of your soulmate? Chance, fate, destiny, luck...I'll do whatever I can to tip the scale in my favor, won't you? So join me in embracing this bit of Southern lore on January 1st. C'mon, get lucky.