Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve traditions in our family

It's New Year's Day 2010 today and it brings back memories of New Year's Eve parties as a kid. My family is Dutch and my mother brought with her to this country many old traditions that we celebrated year after year.

New Year's Eve in my mom's family was a time for games, good food and laughter. She brought those customs to the US and shared them with us. We ate things like "bitterballen", which are small breaded meatballs, similar to croquettes. We also had "oliebollen", which are deep-fried fritters made with dried fruit and raisins. Another favorite of mine were banana fritters, but my mom also made apple fritters. These are not like the sweet fritters you see in today's donut shops. These are pieces of apple or banana (a healthy bite) dipped in batter and then deep-fried. Later you dip them in powdered sugar and gobble them up.

The games we played were the type of games that are good for large groups of people. Many were card games, such as "Pik Pak Por". Everyone around the table is dealt 3 cards and they all have 3 pennies to their name. You start going around the table and each person throws down a card at their turn. Let's say Person A has a 7. If Person B next to them has a 7, they put it down and say "Pik 7" and Person A has to put a penny in the pot. If Person C also has a 7, they put it down and say "Pak 7" and Person B puts 2 pennies into the pot. Should Person D have the last 7, they put it down and say "Por 7" and Person C puts all 3 pennies into the pot and is out of the game, dead.

Now comes the fun part. A dead player can talk to anyone. A live play can only talk to live players. The trick now is for a dead player to try and get a live player to talk to them. If they do, the live player forfeits their cards and their pennies and is now dead, and the formerly dead player is back in the game.

Over the years, we've had great memories of the lengths people go to to get the live player to talk to them. My Aunt T offered my other aunt another glass of wine. When my aunt said "yes", T grabbed the cards with a resounding "YEAH!" and started playing, the pouring of the wine forgotten in the heat of battle.

My parents also brought along a Sjoelbak game from Holland, basically a table top shuffleboard game ( or It's pronounced "shul-bac". Boy, that was so fun. Banking the stones off the side to try and get the score. I wonder whatever happened to our sjoelbak?

It's funny, I never remember much of the actual midnight "it's a new year" time. For me it was more about the food (no big surprise there) and the games. I do remember, though, during the late 60's/early 70's, that around noon, my mom would call the operator and make an appointment to contact the family in Holland at 3PM our time (which is midnight in Holland). Yep, back in those days you couldn't just direct dial out of the country, you had to have operator assistance. You really take for granted all the ease of communication these days, until you think about what your parents had to do to talk to each other. Letters were much more the norm for communication and talking on the phone was a luxury only used for special occasions or emergencies. Even when I was born in the early 60's, the congratulations from Holland came via telegram. You couldn't send a telegram if your life depended on it nowadays (I think).

As an adult, I spend my New Year's Eves pretty quietly. I don't go out to bars or clubs, because the thought of being on the road with NYE drunks is frightening. Maybe, though, I should think back to those family traditions and adapt them to my current life. Might be fun!

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