It's the season of reflection and and anticipation as we look back over the past year and look forward to the new one on the horizon. Our fall trips wrapped up earlier this month, and thanks to your support SINHG members enjoyed learning about everything from pirates and Porgy & Bess to gourmet cooking and the Charleston Renaissance. Our spring 2023 trips are waiting in the wings while we pause to welcome in the New Year.
If you've lived in the South and especially in the Lowcountry for any length of time, collard greens, black-eyed peas and Hoppin' John are surely on your New Year menu. These traditional foods are believed to help ensure a prosperous year - collard greens being the color of money, black-eyed peas standing in for coins, and the spicy, field vegetable-and rice-based Hoppin' John predicting a successful growing season. The origin of the dish's name is still much debated. Some think it's from the nickname given to a popular African-American man in Charleston with a faulty leg who first served the dish; or maybe it's because children, in anticipation of eating such a sumptuous meal, would hop around the dinner table in excitement. All that's known for sure is that the first use of the name in print was in landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted's 1861 travelogue, "A Journey In The Seaboard Slave States", in which he claimed he'd been served Hoppin' John by the aristocratic Sarah Rutledge during a visit to Charleston.
Two years after Olmsted's visit, the Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved Blacks took effect on January 1, 1863, giving rise to another New Year tradition observed in the Gullah Geechee community - Watch Night. On "Freedom's Eve", December 31st, Watch Night services take place in the community's churches throughout the Lowcountry, with sacred music, Bible readings, reconciliation of disputes and public resolutions for the coming year. A reading of the Proclamation follows, as church elders serving as Watchmen keep an eye on the clock and sing the last hymn of the outgoing year as midnight approaches and the entire congregation kneels in prayer. On New Year's Day, Charleston's parade is also known as the Emancipation Day parade, the nation's longest continuously held such parade.
"The anticipation of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation still fills me with a great sense of pride and dignity every year," declared one churchgoer who attended her first Lowcountry Watch Night when she was just eleven years old. "It's a time of putting our best foot forward."