“Luck affects everything. Let your hook always be cast. In the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish.”

— Ovid, Roman philosopher

By Candace Cooksey Fulton — Brownwood Bulletin

At one minute before midnight, one of America’s best known New Year’s traditions will begin its descent and welcome in 2008. Tonight, for the 100th time in just that many years, the New Year Ball will be dropped at 11:59 p.m. in Times Square, New York City.

Those familiar with what is surely the most famous New Year’s tradition in the United States — if not the world — may know that the ball’s descent is scheduled for a minute-long fall. The tradition began in 1907, and the original ball was made of wood and iron. Now the glittering sphere is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds and is 6 feet in diameter.

Literally thousands gather each year in Times Square to watch the historic and traditional drop, and the effort is televised on major networks as well.

Those who will be celebrating the New Year in their own living rooms, and would like to make their own personal tradition with an endorsement of good luck for the coming year, may choose to adopt the Spanish custom of eating 12 grapes — one for each of the 12 months of the year — at midnight.

And of course the science is still out on this, but, generally, in the South, and yes, that includes Texas, those expecting the best of 2008 will ladle a few black-eyed peas onto their plates New Year’s Day.

Every New Year’s Eve, it seems, the discussion rages on whether to have black-eyed peas either as a midnight snack, for lunch or supper, or any time New Year’s Day. The debate could go on for another year, and in some north/south mixed households it might. What is known, is that black-eyed peas are a good source of calcium, folate and vitamin A, so even keeping luck from being a consideration, eating peas on New Year’s or any day of the year is a nutritionally sound idea.

If cash is a concern, the same non-science traditionalists also strongly suggest a side of cabbage or greens with those peas.

Then, of course if things do go well in 2008 — and there’s no reason, of course, that they shouldn’t — some will say it’s all because of hard work, skill and attention to opportunity. But the black-eyed peas and cabbage or turnip green eaters will have to wonder if it’s not a little luck prodded by their New Year’s Day diet.

The musical choice for ringing out the old and in the new is that “familiar” song everybody knows, but no one knows the lyrics to, “Auld Lang Syne.” Robert Burns first published the Scottish ballad in the 1796 edition of Scots Musical Museum. Burns allegedly transcribed and refined the lyrics after hearing it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, his homeland.

Bandleader Guy Lombardo popularized the song and turned it into a New Year’s tradition. Lombardo first heard “Auld Lang Syne” in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants. When he and his brothers formed the famous dance band, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, the song became one of their standards. Lombardo played the song at midnight at a New Year’s Eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, and a tradition was born. After that, Lombardo’s version of the song was played at the Waldorf Astoria every New Year’s Eve from the 1930s until 1976.

The literal translation for “Auld Lang Syne” is “old long since” and means “times gone by.” The sweet song begs the question of whether old friends and times will be forgotten, while it promises to remember people of the past with fondness.

The translation of the lesser known verses laments how friends who once used to run about the hills, pull up the daisies and paddle in the stream from morning to dusk have become divided by time and distance. Broad seas have roared between us, the verses continue, yet there is always time for old friends to get together — if not in person, then in memory — over a goodwill drink.