Forgotten Tradition of Granny New Year

Appalachian children, Monongalia County, WV. Sept. 1938.
Appalachian children, Monongalia County, WV. Sept. 1938.

Christmas 2019 has concluded and as the year comes to an end, so too do the expectations of children everywhere for gifts and presents.  More than a century ago, however, a long forgotten New Years tradition provided at least one more opportunity for children to be treated prior to season’s end: Granny New Year.

According to tradition, Granny New Year arrives in homes on New Year’s night, leaving candy and small gifts — sometimes even tiny amounts of money — in her wake, along with ushering in a fresh start and new year.

The tradition appears to be Scottish in its origins and it extends the spirit of Christmas giving by her leaving small gifts to children.  These gifts were typically placed in the stockings and were most often no more than a small toy, nuts, fruits or candy.

In an era defined by hard times, especially by the winter months, a small gift of fruit or candy was a great treat to children and one to which many kids looked forward to receiving.

Other New Year traditions observed over the years in Appalachia vary wildly and range from eating black eyed peas, placing a silver coin into cabbage, eating greens for prosperity, and the ‘first footer’ which states that if the first person who steps through your home’s doorway is a tall and dark male, prosperity and good luck will follow through the year to come.

Though the tradition has largely fallen out of mainstream keeping over the past century, it has seen a resurgence in recent years and appears to be potentially mounting a return into common practice.

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