On the Jewish food scene: Food for the secular New Year

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

I’ve given up trying to stay awake to midnight on the secular New Year. The last time I came close was by accident: I was watching the last few episodes of the previous season of the British sci-fi show “Primeval” on DVD before the new season started the next night. On New Year’s Eve 1999, I was tempted to stay awake to see if the power went out for Y2K, but figured there was nothing I could do if it did and getting a good night’s sleep would be all the more important if the electronic world imploded.

My family never went out on New Year’s Eve, except for a few times when my parents were invited to a party. What we normally did when I was growing up was buy some not-quite-junk food that we didn’t regularly keep in the house and enjoy that during the evening. I can’t remember most of what we bought, but the frozen kosher mini egg rolls stand out. (If this doesn’t seem like a treat in the 21st century, remember that there was only one Chinese restaurant in Broome County when I was young.) I’m also pretty sure there were chips (the one time of the year we had potato chips in the house) and dip to go with them. (This was before corn chips and salsa were prevalent. Yes, I really did grow up in the Ice Age.) 

In the past, I’ve had friends encourage me to go out for the evening to celebrate, for example to see the fireworks on the Delaware River when I lived outside of Philadelphia in the 1990s. Large crowds have never been my favorite thing so I stayed home instead. My treat at that time (which is still among my favorite things) was to open a bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. I love bubbles (which explains all the seltzer cans in my house) and the taste is wonderful. In case you’re wondering, it’s non-alcoholic. However, if you want to see me get silly and/or giddy, just give me enough of that cider: the drink can give me a sugar high, which affects me more than alcohol (which usually just makes me sleepy).

I’m trying to remember if I did anything special the last few years on New Year’s Eve and it’s really hard to remember. In 2019, I did have a lovely afternoon on December 31: it was the first year my mom was in a nursing home. I took off from work early and spent the afternoon with her. It reminded me of when she still lived at home because we did the same thing we would have done there: she watched TV while I read. The timing also worked because one of my cousins called and I was able to get the phone so he could speak to her.

I couldn’t see my mom last New Year’s Eve because the nursing home was on lockdown. Did I buy myself something special? I can’t remember. I think I got some takeout during that week, but the timing doesn’t register. It also doesn’t seem that important. In fact, after making sure that I had a really good Hanukkah this year, the secular New Year pales in comparison. For me, the real new year is Rosh Hashanah. That’s when I do my life review, so other than the fact I’ll have to start writing 2022, rather than 2021, on my checks and letters, January 1 is just another day.

But I’m always up for an excuse to have something fun to eat, so now that I’ve written this, I’m thinking I should enjoy something different that night. Eh, then again, maybe not. I’ll see closer to the time. However, whatever you do or don’t do on that night, I want to wish you all a happy secular New Year.