Besides Dick Clark, college football Bowl games, keeping my kids up way too late and counting down from 10 to 1 right before midnight, New Year’s would not be complete without a pork and sauerkraut dinner on New Year’s day.
The Pennsylvania Dutch (German immigrants) and their superstitious cuisine has been a staple of my predominately Italian family’s New Year’s Day traditions since as long as I can remember (I find it hard to believe lasagna and sausage could not be substituted). Pork and sauerkraut are considered to be good luck for a new year. The pork from a fat pig means an “abundant” year ahead. The green of the cabbage resembles the color of money. So you have “ich habe Schwein gehabt” or “I have had good luck” (with a side of mashed potatoes).
I’m all for tradition. I’m all for the pork. I’m all for the sides of mashed potatoes, applesauce and gravy. I’m even in to giving some credence to the power of “good luck” items. But the sauerkraut? Not so much. Those noxious strings of cabbage have a shelf life of several months (w/out refrigeration). It has the consistency of wet grass and smells like someone decided to boil your dirty gym socks from the 7th grade. How Cole Slaw’s ugly step-brother can be seen as good luck on New Year’s is beyond me.
Yet to my mom, it was (Did I mention she isn’t even German? She’s 100% Italian. The woman has marinara sauce running in her veins. We ate pasta 3 times a week growing up). And eating just the pork wasn’t good enough. The pork and sauerkraut had to be eaten in tandem for the full “good luck” to take effect. I was forced to eat it in tandem as a child because apparently no one in my family had heard of cooking the pork and the sauerkraut separately. As I got older and my family got two crockpots, my mom made sure to bury a strand deep into my mound of mashed potatoes forcing me to have to eat the entire pile of potatoes in one disgustingly large bite. I of course didn’t want it on my plate any longer than it had to be for fear of it tainting the rest of my meal (Would you keep a piece of uranium on your nightstand because its glowing made a handy nightlight? I think not.).
And now a new year is here and my wife has buried a strand of sauerkraut in my mashed potatoes. Why? I’m an adult. I stopped eating my vegetables when I moved out of my parents’ house. I drink from the carton of milk (FYI, if you want something to drink at my house, don’t pick the milk). And now I’m ready to kick-start 2011 without the sauerkraut.
I’ve molted 2010. I’ve put the bad of last year behind me. Now I’m ready to help my kids blow out the candles on their birthday cakes as they get one year older. I’m ready to celebrate my 11th wedding anniversary with my wife. I’m ready for the summer of 2011, and fireworks, and the swimming pool. By July, I’ll be ready for the start of school. I’m ready for all the events that will take place in 2011 even though I don’t wish them here too fast.
I lost loved ones last year but 2011 gives me a new year to celebrate their memories and spirits. I have a new year to make sure my family knows how much they mean to me. I get another chance to not miss a moment. I remain employed to begin 2011. I’m excited about meeting new friends and saying hello to old ones. I have my health. My family has theirs. I have opportunities just waiting for me to reach out and grab them in 2011.
Funny thing is, now that I’m thinking about all I have waiting for me in 2011, I guess I am pretty lucky? What else is funny (or what my wife describes as “I told you so”)…I didn’t realize how lucky I am 2011 is starting until after I ate my pork and sauerkraut dinner.