Want a Prosperous New Year? Eat Cabbage. Avoid Those Talking Cattle.

By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

If you want a prosperous new year, make sure to eat some cabbage before going to bed on New Year’s Eve. And be careful not to sneeze.

Oh, and if the first man you meet on New Year’s Day is a priest, make sure your will is up to date, for death may soon follow.

Superstitions? Folklore? Exactly, but if you believe them, you’re not alone.

Humans have practiced and believed New Year’s superstitions for centuries, says a University of Wisconsin-Madison expert on folklore.

“Many of the things we celebrate have their origin in ancient practices,” said Harold Scheub, professor of African languages and literature. “There are hundreds of them. Some of them are really weird.”

“The Old and the New Year,” by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, depicting the old year 1885 changing to 1886. (Library of Congress photo)

For instance, Scheub said, it is believed a person who drops and breaks a light bulb on Christmas day will face financial ruin in the coming year. If a colored bulb is broken, a close relative will die, he said.

Sneezing on New Year’s is said to bring misfortune.

In many European countries, the first person to set foot in a home on New Year’s Day — dubbed the “first footer” — will determine what the new year will hold.

In Scotland, if the first footer is a redheaded man, the year will hold misfortune. A dark-haired man is preferable, Scheub said.

In years past, a lump of coal brought by a first footer was a good sign. “A lump of coal traditionally was something that was valued,” he said.

Many New Year’s superstitions and celebrations are rooted in the belief that the last week of the year is when spirits, fairies and witches roam the earth and the forces of nature can be influenced, he said.

“The Old Year’s Legacy to the New,” pencil drawing by William Allen Rogers, showing the year changing from 1891 to 1892. (Library of Congress photo)

“At midnight on New Year’s Eve, strange things will happen,” Scheub said, relating the folklore. “It is one of the most magic times of the year.

“These are times nature is going through great stress,” he said. “We human beings are trying to have an influence on it.”

The noisemakers that sound off at parties when the clock strikes 12 were traditionally used to frighten off the evil spirits of the old year, he said.

“Trying to undo the horrors we’ve committed in the past — this seems to be what New Year’s always was,” Scheub said.

It is also said that anyone who ventures into the pasture at midnight will hear the cattle speaking the names of people who will die in the new year, he said.

New Year’s has also been the time that wishes were made for good crops and pregnancy. On New Year’s Eve in Germany, young boys would cut fresh boughs from a tree and ritually “beat” young girls. On New Year’s Day, the girls would reciprocate. It was thought to increase fertility, Scheub said.

Professor Harold Scheub in the classroom in 2013. (University of Wisconsin-Madison photo)

In Java and some African countries, sham fights were staged between people representing the new year and those representing the old. Today’s bowl games are a similar representation, he said.

Even many Christmas traditions pre-date the time of Christ, according to Scheub.

The Christmas tree could have its origin in Norse countries, where people would place lighted candles in pine trees to keep the spirit of the forest alive until spring. Holiday candles could come from an old English tradition of extinguishing the hearth fire at New Year, then relighting the fires from a community bonfire.

“People all over the world practice these things in their own way,” Scheub said.

“All of these in one way or another are filled with hope,” he said. “We seem to need a period in our year when we say goodbye to the past.”

One last thing. If you wake up on January 1 with a splitting headache, what does that foretell for the New Year?

Have a little less to drink next year. ♦

– This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the December 31, 1988 issue of the Racine Journal Times. View the original newspaper pages.

Postscript: After a 43-year career, Scheub retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013.

— The images in the illustration atop this post are from the Library of Congress collections.

Cudahy Marine Corporal Helps Put WWII Bond Drive Over the Top

As 1944 came to a close, Sheboygan County was still short of its nearly $1.2-million goal for sales of Series E war bonds. The captains of industry in that fine Wisconsin county did what America has always done in times of crisis: they called in the U.S. Marines. Although in this case, a lone Marine from Cudahy handled his share of the duties.

In fall 1944, Marine Cpl. Earl J. Mulqueen Jr. was still recovering from the loss of his left leg in the Pacific theater when he was pressed into service promoting war bonds on the home front. The effort was one of the eight national war-bond drives between 1942 and 1945 that raised more than $190 billion. Investors purchased $25 bonds for $18.25. Bonds were redeemable after 10 years.

For the Sheboygan war bond tour, Mulqueen was paired with an Army man from Milwaukee who had been held in a Nazi POW camp. The boys made a whirlwind tour of Sheboygan to explain the importance of supporting the war effort. The county war bond committee placed a full-page advertisement in The Sheboygan Press featuring Mulqueen and Staff Sgt. Azzan C. McKagan, who was held captive for 14 months in Stalag 17B Braunau Gneikendorf near Krems, Austria. “You think you’re making ‘sacrifices’ when you buy an extra ‘E’ war bond?” the headline read. “Look at these two Wisconsin boys and say that!”

This full-page ad appeared in the Dec. 22, 1944 issue of The Sheboygan Press. Mulqueen is at left.

At a bond rally at Benedict’s Heidelberg Club, Mulqueen talked about his experiences fighting with the 2nd Marine Division on Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He noted the tremendous cost of fighting the war. At the U.S. Marine rest camps, he said, no rallies were necessary. The Marines gladly bought their share of war bonds. “The boys at the front are tired — damned tired — we all have to buy bonds to get them home as soon as possible,” he said.

McKagan described being shot down from the ball turret of his B-17 “Hellzapoppin” bomber, and how German civilians beat him after he parachuted to safety. McKagan suffered severe shoulder wounds from anti-aircraft fire. The Gestapo held him for two days and refused to provide medical treatment. He later underwent surgery, but German doctors withheld anesthetic. On Christmas Eve 1943, he was told he would be shot dead the next day for being a saboteur. Instead, he was moved to another POW camp. He was liberated by the Russians in September 1944.

“When I landed on German soil with my right shoulder joint knocked out as a result of flak, the younger German civilians in the vicinity immediately jumped on me and beat me up,” McKagan said. “The civilians that were too old for that sort of thing spit in my face.”

Mulqueen and McKagan appeared at American Hydraulics Inc., The Vollrath Company, Associated Seed Growers, Curt G. Joa Inc., Phoenix Chair Company, Garton Toy Company, Kingsbury Breweries Company, Armour Leather Company, Sheboygan North High School and Sheboygan Central High School.

At the high school rallies, “they were enthusiastically received, as both of the heroes were quite recently high school students,” The Sheboygan Press reported. McKagan attended Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. Mulqueen was a graduate of Pio Nono High School in St. Francis. Mulqueen was too young to enlist and needed written permission from his parents to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Sheboygan war-bond tour received extensive media coverage.

On Dec. 7, 1944, the men appeared at halftime of the professional basketball game between the Sheboygan Redskins and the world champion Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons at the Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory. Some 3,400 fans gave full attention to the war heroes. “The messages of these young men who have sacrificed their limbs in the fight for victory brought every person in that vast armory to the realization that wholehearted support of the Sixth War Loan drive is the least that civilians on the home front can do to help these young men carry on at the fighting fronts,” read the sports page of The Sheboygan Press.

The rallies had the desired effect, helping put Sheboygan County over its Series E goal, with $1.21 million in bond sales. Overall through December 1944, county residents and businesses purchased nearly $8.6 million in World War II bonds — more than double Sheboygan County’s quota.

Mulqueen was a veteran of war-bond rallies by the time he hit the circuit in Sheboygan, In November 1944, he stood with two of his brothers at Schuster’s Department Store in Milwaukee at a bond rally that helped raise more than $500,000. None of it was easy for Mulqueen. Just six months earlier, he was blown off the deck of a landing ship-tank (LST) at Pearl Harbor in what would come to be known as the West Loch Disaster. The chain-reaction explosion that day killed 163 and wounded nearly 400 as the Marines prepared for the eventual invasion of Saipan.

After the war, Mulqueen returned to Cudahy, married and became father to six children. He had a long, successful career with his brother, Tinker Mulqueen, running Earl’s Automotive in Cudahy. He died of cancer on August 2, 1980.

Even though he was partially disabled, McKagan re-enlisted in the Army in March 1947 and became a small-arms instructor at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. He was awarded the distinguished flying cross for his World War II service. McKagan was killed in an automobile accident in Germany in July 1947.

©2017 The Hanneman Archive

Related: “You Buy the Bonds and the Mulqueens Will Win the War”

Related: Mulqueen’s Donated Knife Makes it to War in the Pacific