It goes without saying, 2020 has been a brutal year. Many of us stayed home and wore masks to try to prevent the year from getting worse. But, in the end, so much of the suck of 2020 were things we couldn’t control. We couldn’t control mask wearing being made political instead of something we do because we care for our neighbors and fellow Americans. We couldn’t control how aid was distributed, if jobs were available and as safe as they could be, and we couldn’t control how fast we got a vaccine (which in the end is being delivered at an astonishing speed). One of the most stressful things you can do to a person is give them negative reinforcement based on something someone else does but the receiver has no influence over. It is a formula that will induce anxiety in the most stable person and 2020 was an anxiety machine.
I have a friend, Marie Vibbert, who loves the Browns. In a city full of super fans, Marie is in the top 100, she even played women’s football with the Fusion. Marie is also one of the most rational people I know (outside of my father who is the type of atheist who, the day after open heart surgery, nearly broke the hospital’s chaplin; my father described the poor man as “very upset” after a conversation with him.) Yet, this very rational woman has lucky socks. She tries to repeat everything she does when the Browns win. If you are a guest at her house when Cleveland loses, don’t expect to be invited over again. If they win, you will have a standing invitation for any game night (and Marie will secretly blame you for the loss if you don’t show up). Some of this is for fun but, deep down, I suspect some of it is more than just fun. Watching the Browns lose season after season is enough to shake even the most stable of people.
The truth is finding things that give us the illusion of control in a world where we have limited control can be a good thing. Good Luck charms and rituals are like the comfort blanket of a toddler. They are something to cling to in a turbulent world where the social rules and economy are temporarily (we hope) upended and a new order hasn’t yet asserted itself. Good luck charms can be abused. No four-leaf clover is going to assure you don’t pull the short straw on COVID. They are to be used as Marie uses her lucky socks, with hope and good will, but not as a sure thing. Even if the Browns lose while you are at Marie’s house, she can be convinced to invite you over again (bringing alcohol and cheese also helps).
With that in mind, I did a quick survey of worldwide New Year good luck traditions. I went through the traditions I was willing to do, those that my family wouldn’t be annoyed with me about, and those that were practical. Jumping waves seven times was out, Lake Erie is very cold right now and the waves aren’t that big to start with on most days (assuming the shore line isn’t frozen). The husband and child were not going to eat cabbage. We aren’t big on pomegranates except when they come from the tree in my father’s back yard. And I like bread too much to bang it on a wall and I’m not about to smash plates on my neighbor’s porches. All those are out. Here is what is in:
- Put money under a rug
- Put on something white
- Put 12 fruits on the dining room table
- Toss coins into every room of the house
- Light up the house with every light I have
- Eat 12 grapes in 12 seconds
- Open a door to the outside to let out 2020
On New Years Day
- Eat Hopping John (black eyed peas)
- Wear Green
- Cook something green
- Serve fish
- Ring the doorbell 108 times.
Later (when available)
- A vaccination shot for everyone in my household
Will any of these things do anything? Very unlikely (with the notable exception of vaccination which is about as sure a thing as the world has to offer). What it will do is give me some small sense of control. What are you doing this New Years to recapture your sense of agency?
I wish you the very best in the coming year. Chins up.