“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Snow began falling the previous night, and the temperature remained below freezing all day. My kitchen was warm and fragrant, though, as bacon sizzled, onions and garlic sautéed, and the oven preheated for the evening meal. Though snow and ice lingered on the roads and sidewalks, not one of my friends cancelled. So, I pulled out my prettiest dishes, crystal, and flatware, dressed the table in a bright, white cloth and candles, and prepared to welcome my dinner guests.
In the South, tradition often inspires our meals. It is traditional to take fried chicken, barbecue, or a Jello salad to a church potluck; to make divinity and Buckeye candy at Christmas; and to can fresh corn and green beans every summer when the crops come in. One tradition that has escaped me, despite my deep Southern roots, is the New Year’s Day meal of pork, turnip greens, and black-eyed peas. According to lore, each of these food is said to bring either luck or fortune if eaten on January 1. Even though my Red Tent dinner was held a few days after the first, this tradition shaped my menu. I rounded out the meal with other favorite Southern fare, including sour-cream cornbread, deviled eggs, and banana pudding.
At six o’clock the doorbell began to ring, and I opened it time-after-time to find friends bundled in heavy coats, scarves, and gloves. They greeted me with chilled pink cheeks and wide smiles. It was good to be together at the start of a new year, and the wintery weather couldn’t diminish the warmth of our fellowship. We agreed that it had been far too long since we gathered, and it seemed unanimous that each of our hearts was craving the connection. Gathered in the kitchen around the appetizer, a warm, creamy turnip green dip, we caught up on holiday news. Then, we moved into the dining room for the meal.
As I prepared for this evening, I pondered Red Tent Living’s January theme of “Hello” and posed a question to my guests: “What are you welcoming in the new year?” This thought would shape our conversation for the evening. However, just two days prior to our gathering, my niece had given birth to a son, so talk of this exciting event naturally led to our own tales of childbirth. Though I knew the women gathered around the table, this was the first time that I heard many of their stories. What an honor to hear their unique and holy stories of childbirth! Eventually our conversation did turn to the new year and what it might hold for us. Guided by the idea of having theme word for the year, many shared what word might define 2017 for us. Abide, courage, love, and release were a few words that inspired us and our conversation.
During the evening the seven of us swapped stories, shed a few tears, and laughed a lot.
By sharing what we wanted to welcome into our lives in the new year, we welcomed each other into the journey.
We also talked of how this single Red Tent dinner might continue in the months to come and possibly multiply into more dinner groups. Then, at the end of a sweet and satisfying evening, my friends braved the cold weather en masse to follow each other down the icy hill and back to their homes, safe and sound. I returned to my warm kitchen, now piled with dirty dishes, and felt deliciously full—body and soul.
* Photo credit: Thanks to Lori Douthat, kind and talented friend, who graciously photographed the dinner.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 23 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.