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Commentary Detail

Herring, Silver Dollars and Tall, Dark Strangers
Commentary by: Elaine Viets
Aired December 31, 2007

Every New Year's Eve, my grandmother would put out the jar of pickled herring. I thought the silvery fish floating in vinegar looked disgusting, but Grandma observed this ritual with near religious fervor.

At the stroke of midnight, Grandma swallowed pickled herring while she held a silver dollar in her hand.

Grandma was convinced this was the key to a prosperous New Year. She spent most of her life nearly broke, but she never changed her ritual. The New Year had to be heralded with herring and a silver dollar.

For the record, herring tastes awful with the traditional champagne toast.

Grandma also believed the first person through the door January first set the tone for the whole year. She tried to make sure a grandchild or a good friend was in the first one inside her home.

A tall, dark-haired man was considered a sign of special good luck.

For years, I worried about the first person walking into my house on New Year's Day.

The year a tall, dark stranger showed up was especially lucky � for him. His visit was the start of a year's worth of plumbing repairs. He made many silver dollars.

Grandma also toasted the year with "health, wealth and happiness." There's also a St. Louis toast, supposed to be a favorite of the old Lemp beer family:

"While we live, let us live in clover. For when we're dead, we're dead all over".

Happy New Year.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets


Elaine Viets is a freelance writer.

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