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Through the Lens (3…2…1…HAPPY NEW YEAR)

By Chuck Clegg - | Dec 30, 2020

The Wetzel County Courthouse

This Thursday at midnight, the count down to a new year will echo around the globe. It is the time when we watch as the New Year moves around the world from time zone to time zone. On television you can watch as the island nations of Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati in the south Pacific are the first to welcome the arrival of 2021. Shortly thereafter, New Zealand and Australia enter the New Year with celebrations of fireworks and parties. I believe this year, these celebrations will bring a new hope for the end of this world wide pandemic.

The arrival of a New Year comes with more annual traditions than most any other holidays. Fireworks displays fill skies around the world. In New York City the crystal ball descends over Times Square while millions look on from around the country. The area of Time Square annually hosts nearly 100,000 people under normal circumstances. But this year, with covid-19 restrictions, the number of visitors will be greatly restricted.

Different countries begin the year with traditions involving foods. In Spain it is believed good luck will follow individuals throughout the year if they eat 12 grapes. But, in order for the luck to be effective, the person must eat all twelve grapes beginning with the first chime of the mid-night clock and finish before the last chime. If you don’t get them eaten in time, you may have to re-live the past year. In Japan, eating a bowl of soba noodles is believed to free the ties with the outgoing year. In the Philippines it is traditional to eat fruit welcoming the New Year. Not just any fruit. The celebratory fruit must be round in its shape. It is believed the round shape is referring to the shape of a circular coin. South of the border in Mexico, the making of homemade tamales is a New Year’s Tradition. Now, that is a tradition I could really sink my teeth into. Homemade tamales are a wonderful food group in themselves.

Here in America, we have traditions that also involve food. Many of those traditions are passed from generation to generations within a family group. When I researched the foods that were most associated with the New Year, the list is as varied as places in this country. One of the most recognized food for the New Year’s table is, black eyed peas. It is said that eating them will bring prosperity in the coming year. Another popular food is pork. Around our home pork is prepared in a slow cooker. Mary and I believed black eyed peas, pork prepared in sauerkraut along with mashed potatoes and hot rolls will bring good luck. It is a once a year meal that I look forward to each New Year’s Day. The anticipation of this meal makes it all that more enjoyable when it arrives along with the New Year. And, it would not be a bad thing if a homemade tamale was also served.

The past year will be one that history will long remember. We started 2020 off like most other years, with hope and optimism. As the year arrived, the word Coronavirus was not even in our vocabulary. The seasonal flu was the only illness we gave much thought too. And if you wanted to prevent the seasonal flu, you rolled up your sleeve for your annual vaccination. With your inoculation completed, you moved on with your life. But the Coronavirus has proven to be no ordinary flu. This virus found a world that was unprepared for its arrival. Around the world, 2020 will be the year that many will have paid the ultimate price for this terrible pandemic.

This New Year’s Eve, we are looking forward to better days as a vaccine is now being distributed around the world. With its arrival, many are already talking about the return to what once passed as normal. As to the 2020 pandemic, future historians will tell the story. Will they say we could have prevented this outbreak, or will they say we did the best we could? We don’t know the full answer today. A little over one hundred years ago, the world experienced a similar global health crisis. Scientists have studied the 1918 pandemic, how it happened and why it ended with little or no intervention from science or medicine. With that knowledge, maybe those who should have known the possibility of another pandemic missed the signs of the coronavirus.

In our community the Wetzel County Court House has marked the passage of time for over a century. It has stood vigil during major events and the routine passing of years. The corner stone of the court house was set in 1900. A couple years later the bell tower with its four clock faces neared completion. By my estimation, the bell probably announced its first New Year in 1903. Since that first sounding, the clocks and bell have stood watch for 117 years. In 1918 the clocks ushered in the year the Spanish Flu Pandemic began. Over the following couple years, the flu spread across the country and into our valley.

When the bell announced the new year of 1929, it did not know by the time it welcomed the following year, the country would be deep into the Great Depression. For the next decade the clock’s faces kept the passage of time as the country slowly recovered from its economic hardship. As our country began 1941, the clocks had no way of knowing by the time they announced 1942, sailors were still being recovered from the U.S.S. Arizona on the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Last December as it rang out 2019, it could not foresee the challenges of the year we were about to enter.

Of those of us who welcome the New Year this Thursday night, I am wondering how many have taken noticed of the stone clock tower. For over a century of our town’s history, the tower clocks have announced each passing hour and half hour. If we were to assume it has never missed its appointed task, that would mean that during those years, the towers bell has rang 7,686,900 times.

The courthouse bell has sounded at midnight on New Year’s Eve in both good times and not so good. This Thursday night when the bell rings, it will once again announce to the community, New Year’s 2021 has arrived. Let’s hope this year will be a healthy one for us all. From the staff of the Wetzel Chronicle and Tyler Star News, along with Mary and myself, we are wishing you a healthy, safe and prosperous New Year as we look forward Through the Lens.