My little Gram had a lot of different superstitions. I'm sure that she learned them all from her father, who learned them from his Irish mother. Some revolved around holidays, and the various times of year were marked by her rituals. I remember her insisting that any food left out in the open, like fruit in a bowl, be covered up with a dishtowel on Halloween night. This was to protect us from eating anything that had been touched by visiting spirits, as I recall. Anything left uncovered that night would be thrown away in the morning because it was food for the souls of those gone by.
She had several New Year's Eve/New Year's Day rituals as well. The house had to be tidied and swept and the trash taken out before midnight. Throwing out any trash or sweeping any dust out the door on New Year's Day was strictly forbidden, as it meant sweeping away or throwing away one's luck. After the last family member returned home on New Year's Eve, she would (try to) sneakily hide some money outside on the front porch, usually in the milk box. First thing in the morning, she would retrieve the coins and distribute them to every member of the household as lucky money that was hoped to bring good fortune.
Another strict rule that Gram had was to start the New year by eating something sweet. Whether it was cake or cookies, we had to start off the year with a sweet treat so that our year would be a sweet one. Even the dogs were given a piece of cake on that morning. They had no understanding of why they were given this rare treat, but they didn't care; it tasted good and they loved it! She also performed a ritual that she described as the cake of the winds. Before anyone went outside, she went out in the back yard and threw cake in all four directions. I don't know if any prayers or declarations were made, because this was done privately. I imagine it was an old pagan ritual from her Irish forebears. Again, the dogs were beneficiaries of her actions as they came upon bits of cake in the yard and ate up every delicious crumb.
There were many other superstitions that were part of everyday mundane life. It was bad luck to come in one door and out the other. If you came in the front door, that's the door you should leave by to avoid bad luck. One must never kill a cricket - any crickets that made their way into the house were captured if possible and released in the yard. From time to time I would have an elusive cricket in my bedroom, singing me to sleep at night. One morning I woke up feeling a tickle on my arm from the cricket who decided to cuddle up next to the warm sleeping human!
Although Gram wasn't a stickler for us going to church on Sunday, she had some Sunday rules as well. Gram was a woman of faith, and she had seen her share of people who attended church regularly but weren't very nice people. She often said that she'd rather have people just be decent seven days a week rather than be "Sunday saints and weekday sinners," as she called them. She had no problems with me working on Sundays, either, but there were more bad-lucks connected to that day. One couldn't cut their hair or nails on Sunday for fear of misfortune.
Every-day superstitions covered any number of things. From time to time, Gram would take us by the hand and lead us outside to look at the New Moon over our shoulder. She stressed that one's first look at a New Moon must not be through glass if it was possible to avoid it. And it was bad luck to have shoes on a table or a hat on a bed. I remember telling Gram once that I thought those two were created to help people have better habits. What better way to make your kids keep their feet off the table that to say it's unlucky? Or to make them put away their hats, for that matter? Gram would smile and say that maybe it was so. I'm sure that she thought that whoever came up with that was a clever, clever mother.
I don't make any judgements of Gram's superstitions, and I honor some of them. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's, I will drink a sip of water if I am awake. I enjoy starting the day and year with a bite off sweetness. And after so many years of being told not to do so, I have to think twice before trimming my fingernails on a Sunday. Gram's there, in the back of my mind, reminding me that there are six other days of the week to cut them. Just never on Sunday.
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