We may have left the lows of 2017 behind — like the secondhand embarrassment for Tyrese whenever he logged onto Instagram or anything related to Donald Trump trying to mar Obama’s legacy.
But what will remain in the new year are the many Black traditions and superstitions that have been rooted in our communities for decades. Like many other customs in Black households, a number of traditions are rooted in the American South, some stretch back further to the shores of Africa, and some are popular around the world and have been woven into Black culture.
These are the superstitions and beliefs that we’re still rocking with in 2018.
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A little known Black history fact is that black-eyed peas have roots in West Africa. According to scholar Jessica Harris, they were domesticated in the savannahs and forests of the continent 5,000 years ago and traveled along with enslaved Africans in the Middle Passage. On New Year ’s Day, they tend to be incorporated with rice and smoked pork to form the dish Hoppin’ John. However, why it became associated with luck or New Year ’s Day is still unknown. In the south, it was believed that black-eyed peas saved families from starvation during the Civil War. Other theories are that Jewish immigrants who migrated to the south, who include black-eyed peas in their Rosh Hashanah menu as a symbol or prosperity, helped form the annual tradition. Whatever the precise origins, this is a New Year’s staple that has spread from small communities in the Deep South to the rest of the country.
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Next time your folks come over for the holidays and inspect your crib, tell them you kept the dust there because you don’t want to block your blessings! It appears that not cleaning on New Year’s Day is an international tradition. From Japan and Poland to the Philippines and the United States, people believe that sweeping and cleaning will either whisk away your good luck or rid your house of gods and goddesses!
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From African American homes (like Lil Wayne proclaimed in this track) to Afro-Latinx households, people believe that if your right palm itches money is on the way. Like many superstitions, the origins of this one are hard to trace. A radio show from the 1930s has a theory though: Saxons, who are from present-day Germany, thought rubbing diseased skin with silver would cure it.
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Another worldwide belief is that putting a handbag on the floor causes financial trouble. According to those who practice the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, “a purse on the floor is money out the door,” but you probably heard you folks repeatedly tell you this anytime they peeped you carelessly leaving your hand bag on the ground. Even if it’s not true, no one wants to mess around with the possibility!
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Like other superstitions with unknown origins, the roots of the belief that putting a hat on the bed will bring bad luck have been lost. Some people may have thought that evil spirits lived in hair and they could spill out into one’s home.
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Don’t try this at home folks, or at least not in the basement of a multi-family apartment building. One of the more dangerous practices to ring in the New Year is roasting a pig, which some families serve with their black-eyed peas. A New Year’s meal with roasted pork dish is common in both Cuba and the US, where it is believed the Pennsylvania Dutch introduced the good luck charm.
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