New Year Traditions… and Sneaky Salad


Happy New Year—and I hope that it will be a happy year for all.

Celebrations around the world express this wish along with a huge dash of optimism. Of course, not everyone greets the New Year on the first of January, for many nations turn their calendars around in February, April or October. Among those who do welcome the New Year on the first of January, though, customs show that hopes for wealth and comfort abound. If we were in Portugal, we’d eat twelve grapes as the clock struck midnight—thus ensuring good luck during the next twelve months. In Switzerland, so I’m told, we’d lay down a dab of cream on the floor to beckon abundance. In Brazil, we’d snack on rice and lentils—signifying wealth—on the first of January. Should we be a Belgian farmer, we’d thank our animals for the coming year’s blessing. And since we are in North Carolina, we would make haste to eat black eyed peas and collards—sure signals that the wealth of the world would this year be ours!

When I was growing up in Japan, Oshogatsu was a very big deal. Not much partying was to be had on the 31st of December because everybody was busy cleaning and cooking yummy dishes for the morrow. Later, when I went to bed at night, I could hear  temple bells all over the country ringing in the brand new year. The far off bells would sound so faint that I could hardly hear it, but even from a distance the great bell of Tennoji boomed out a deep baritone. I would drift off to sleep listening to these sonorous sounds.

On New Year’s day, Japan emphases family and good food including toshikoshi soba, a dish of noodles which traditionally augurs long life and literally means ‘crossing over the year.’ There are also many traditions to observe. When I was growing up, I was informed that the first dream of the New Year was an indication of how the year would go, and that in fact every day of the first week in January offered portents that signified a good, a mediocre, or a  not so terrific year. I must admit that none of these signs and omens were any use to me since nothing ever came true, but they were fun to play with.

One good custom we have kept is celebrating our New Year’s day with our family, and I always serve toshikoshi soba. But when I tried to honor the traditions of our southern home, I ran into difficulties. The collards were  greeted with a lack of enthusiasm ranging from the polite, “Not right now, thanks,” to the less socially correct, “What the heck is this stuff?” and the grandchildren eyed the black eyed peas with suspicion.

Not one to be discouraged, this year I invented Sneaky Salad which is served with a distinctive Asian dressing.

Sneaky Salad (serves 6—9)


Scant ¼ cup olive oil

Two teaspoons soy sauce*

Three tsp. sugar

Three tsp rice vinegar

Chopped ginger (optional)

Chopped cloves of garlic (very optional)

Salad fixings:

Sliced thin: a cucumber, a carrot, several lettuce leaves, radishes

Three or four tender collard leaves sliced VERY (very) thin

Handful of black eyed peas

  • Don’t use soy sauce if diners have celiac disease.

Let dressing sit overnight or, if in a hurry, warm in micro for 30 minutes to

mix flavors. A short while before serving mix everything together and let the whole thing catch its breath for another half hour.

This concoction I presented this year in pretty bowls and…yes? really? aha!

Perhaps Sneaky Salad may yet become a new tradition.

Through many long years

            I remember loved faces

            And joyous laughter.




About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: My blog is here: Or friend me on Facebook!

6 responses »

  1. Maureen,
    Traditions of other countries always interest me. Thanks for sharing some of your experiences.
    It was interesting to learn how combining NC traditions with ones from Japan ran into opposition. Not the objection one might expect. Humorous!

    I love the name “sneaky salad” and the way you added southern traditional foods. Clever! Maybe you should send your recipe to a cooking magazine.

    Your tapestry is lovely and so is its message.

    Happy New Year, dear friend.

  2. My Savannah-born grandmother made Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day, but cooked it to a fair-thee-well. It was like eating pureed cardboard, or so I imagined. My two brothers, my sister and I hated it, so Granny made up a story about Hoppin’ John. The story was good, but never the beans. I could make your sneaking salad with spinach and black beans, though.

  3. Sure you could, Sarah! I think it’s the dressing that makes it all come together… I like it on the light side, but you could add more vinegar, sugar, soy, etc. Or throw in something else that you like…
    it does go over pretty well!
    Thanks, always, for reading. 🙂

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