Tag Archives: good luck

Black American Food Tradition: Eating Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s


KJ: “So, basically, on New Year’s Eve every year, my mom does it in my house, but it’s a very common Black tradition, you make black eyed peas. It’s food, so you can put whatever you want in it, but the traditional thing is to put a ham hock in it, which is classic, Black food for holidays in general. At least my mom starts making them either the day before New Year’s Eve, or on New Year’s Eve, so it can marinate all day. You eat them on New Year’s Day, and it’s supposed to be good luck.”


The informant is a 19-year-old Black American college student from Montclair, New Jersey. She said that this tradition is common among Black Americans. KJ said that this food holds cultural significance not only because it’s traditional, but also because enslaved Black people ate it. Since black eyed peas and ham hocks were seen as undesirable foods, enslaved people were able to cook with and build a food culture around them. She said that Black people now consider these eating this dish good luck because it nourished enslaved people enduring oppression and violence.


 In his essay about the globalization of and continued imperialist legacy within Indian cookbooks, Arjun Appadurai wrote that “Eating together, whether as a family, a caste, or a village, is a carefully conducted exercise in the reproduction of intimacy… Feasting is the great mark of social solidarity,” (Appadurai 10-11). As is the case for many ethnic and folk groups, food can be an important means by which Black people connect to each other and to their histories. Familiarity with certain foods or food traditions like eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day can spark recognition and community between individuals of similar backgrounds. Moreover, the food acts as a kind of tangible link to this group’s heritage.

Black American food traditions are specifically important because they symbolize the ethnic group’s history both of brutalization and of resilience. Enslaved people’s ability to transform the most undervalued ingredients, like ham hocks, into delicious food and common culture, which enslavers sought to strip Black people of, is a source of pride and an emblem of ancestral strength for Black people today. Many groups partake in good luck rituals on New Year’s Day. I think that this food is considered good luck because it nourished enslaved people through the horrors of oppression, so people hope it can sustain them through any hardships of the upcoming year.

Appadurai, Arjun. “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 30, no. 1, 1988, pp. 3–24., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0010417500015024. 

Rituals for Nervous Flyers: Getting on the plane with your right foot and touching the ground after kissing your hand


SP: “I always get on with my right foot, and I bend down and kiss the ground of the plane. I kiss my hand and put my hand down on the ground of the plane. Getting off, I kiss my hand and put my hand down to the floor.”


The informant is my grandmother. She is an 83-year-old woman of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who was born in New York City and currently lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. SP is an extremely anxious flyer and has been for her entire life. She said that she has done these rituals since the first time she flew on an airplane when she was a young girl. Though she doesn’t remember specifically learning or coming up with these rituals, she remarked that the Pope kisses the ground when he gets off a plane, so she expects it was inspired by that. She said that when she does this ritual, specifically kissing the ground, people often stop or look at her. At this moment, she usually tells the flight attendant that she is a very nervous flyer.

Though my grandmother is the only person in my family who has a fear of flying, I was always encouraged by other family members, who make a ritual out of doing so, to step onto airplanes with my right foot.


It’s interesting to me how these rituals for flying on airplanes seem to be derived from other folklore or cultural practices. I imagine that the idea of it being good luck to get onto a plane with your right foot is connected to the phrase “starting off on the right foot,” which is an expression used to indicate that someone or something is starting in a positive way. Thus, this ritual can literally be seen as starting a flight off on the right foot. Moreover, my grandmother described how the Pope kisses the ground when he gets off a plane, which may have inspired her in this ritual. She may have seen him do this on television or in the newspaper. However, the act of kissing one’s hand and touching an object is a common gesture done during a blessing. For example, in Jewish culture, parents place their hands on their children’s heads when doing the blessings for sons and daughters. Moreover, on certain holidays, rabbis carry Torahs around the synagogue so that congregants can touch it with their prayer books. Sometimes people kiss their books after touching the Torah and some do it before, so this ritual can be seen as an individual blessing the Torah, blessing themselves through their contact with it, or both. Thus, my grandmother my grandmother kissing her hand and then touching the ground before flying can be interpreted as her blessing the plane so that she will have a safe flight.

I didn’t know about my grandmother’s ritual of kissing her hand and then touching the ground of an airplane upon boarding and exiting. Upon speaking to her about it, I realized that this may be a way to convey how she feels to the people around her. She said that she often uses flight attendants’ confusion at her performance of this ritual as an opportunity to tell them that she’s a nervous flyer. For this reason, I think that this ritual may serve a practical purpose as an emotional or spiritual one. Because she communicates her fear, the flight attendant may be more inclined to be caring or considerate to my grandmother, perhaps soothing her anxiety.

These good luck rituals are deeply comforting to my grandmother. She has never been in a plane accident, so she has no reason to believe that these rituals don’t work. Though my other relatives are not afraid of flying, I think they partake in the ritual of getting on the plane with your right foot similarly because it has never been disproven, so they have no reason not to. I also think that they do this out of an emotional impulse to feel close to my grandmother and to carry on her endearing idiosyncrasies. 

New Homes

“Our LoPing taught us that when you are building or buying a house, climb the steps leading to the front door saying oro (gold), for the first step, plata (silver) for the next one, and mata (death) for the third one and so on. The last step should be oro or plata, never mata which is considered bad luck. He also said the front door or gate should face the rising sun. When we move into a new home, my Ninong taught me to always bring rice and salt into the house before anything else. It’s a symbol for continuing prosperity (that we will never go hungry in that home).”

Background: The informant is a 60 year-old woman who was raised in a context where her entire extended family is deeply connected and often support their cousins, nieces, and nephews when they are moving into new homes.  These beliefs were given to the informant when she bought her first home for her family.

Context: This piece was told to me at our church’s weekly luncheon after our Sunday services.  Many of our relatives live locally, so the extended family has opportunities to see each other often.

Buying a new home is a huge deal for people in the informant’s extended family, as it serves as a sign that the individual has created a strong foundation for themselves and can now stand alone as a unit of the extended family.  Therefore, whenever someone buys a new home, members of the family and community often provide these guiding superstitions and beliefs in order to invite prosperity and wealth for the new household.  The informant was also raised to be frugal with their money, so prosperity, luck, and financial gain were important values to emphasize for when they bought a new home.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something, blue

Background: The informant is married herself, but also worked in a bridal store for years and knows a lot about wedding traditions. She specifies how this tradition ties in with wedding dresses and how the store incorporated them.

LR: I know the whole, something borrowed, something blue, something old, something new as being like good luck for brides, and, so, I think there are several things associated with weddings. I don’t know where the reference came from, um but i think it’s the idea that you have meaningful things with you, or that had been passed down when you get married that sort of, um, bring good luck, good feeling, good energy, or positive vibes. So I think for most people something new is sometimes the wedding dress, sometimes that’s something borrowed, sometimes that’s something old if you wear somebody else’s dress. Ya know, people borrow vails, but usually, and again, I don’t know where the original reference came from for the blue or why blue would be associated or connotate good energy, but, um, people used to wear garters that would have like a blue ribbon in them, that would be taken off. So just like the bouquet would be tossed to the girls, or the single women, the garter would be shot to the single men. So that was something that was more prevalent like when i got married, and we used to sell the garters at the bridal store I worked in. But, we changed it because I think, I don’t know, it sort of became like people didn’t really wear garters, they were at one time I think women wore garters right? To hold up their stockings, and then of course with, I don’t know, more modern times we wore pantyhose or whatever and then you’d put a garter which was an elastic band with lace and a ribbon and you’d wear that up and it was this big thing like that the husband was going up his wife’s leg to get htee garter off and then he would like shoot it like a rubber band. So I always thought that was funny. At least at the store I worked at, I think moree post-2000, fewer and fewer people wore garters or did that with the bride, and so they still did the bouquet toss to indicate, you know, who was likely gonna be the next person to get married, but what we did at the store was to tie the blue ribbon in the bride’s hem, or her wedding dress, as a symbol of good luck that was always there. And then they didn’t have to worry about trying to find a way to wear something blue so to speak?

Me: Why do you think the tradition of shooting garters has decreased?

LR: Honestly, I think most modern brides would be like what the hell is a garter. I don’t know how easy it is to find them anymore.

Me: Do you think garters have the same meaning as bouquets, like do you think it was the next guy to get married? Or what do you think shooting the garter into guys signified?

LR: I mean I think that was sort of supposed to be the equivalent, instead I think for them it was like oh you’re going to be the next lucky schmuck who’s gonna get tied down. You know, you used to have all the bridesmaids or all the single women clamoring for the bouquet, and yet, it was like the opposite for the guys, it was a sign of shame or something to actually come forward to get it. Nobody wanted to get it because it meant they’d be tied down. I don’t think as many guys embraced the idea of looking like they wanted to get married.

Context of performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: This is a super popular saying, although I don’t know firsthand how many people follow it. I like the sentimental quality it brings to a period of transition in someone’s life as getting married can be seen as a rite of passage and these are the items that push you through the threshold, or liminal space. It’s interesting that these things bring you good luck moving forward in your life, more so because to me it suggests that it’s its own period separated by the wedding and these items merge the two stages of life, especially with something old and something new.

Wishing on 11:11

Main Piece:

What is this ritual?

“When it’s the minute [11:11], I close my eyes and make a wish. I try and repeat is as many times as I can until the minutes is over. It usually involves crossing my fingers because I’ve been told that it makes it better.” 

When and how did you learn this?

“I’m sure in elementary school, it was one of the few luck superstitions I was taught. I heard in passing, like no one teaches you ‘sit down and do this.’” 


My informant is my roommate. She went to public elementary school in Los Angeles. I noticed her pointing out the time 11:11 am, so I asked her to explain it to me. We were standing in our kitchen looking at the digital clock on our oven. 


Wish-making rituals are very common (wishing on a star, making a wish on an eyelash, etc.) but what’s so interesting about this ritual is that it’s origin can be dated, and a terminus post quem can be established. The time 11:11 only looks special on digital clocks because it’s four 1s in a row. It doesn’t look or feel special on an analog clock. Therefore, this ritual must have been established after the invention and popularization of digital clocks.