No one can accuse the Arlington County Board of putting fun before duty. This morning, while the rest of the civilized world is still shaking confetti from its hair, the five board members will be electing their officers, debating goals and giving speeches, just like they have on New Year's Day for years.
"It's our way of saying, 'Here's the new year, let's get started and reaffirm our commitments anew,' " said Ellen Bozman, a board member for 14 years who insists that the annual organizing meeting has never put a damper on her festivities the night before. "I don't think we have anyone who would spend the night out or do anything excessive."
Although New Year's Eve may take a back seat to Christmas in symbolic value, many Washington area residents ushered in the new year yesterday with time-honored customs of their own, ones that had nothing to do with crowds, drinking and hangovers.
At the Northwest Washington apartment complex owned by the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged Inc., about 400 senior citizens sat down to an annual "good luck" dinner featuring 450 pieces of fried chicken, 160 pounds of chitterlings, 100 pounds of pigs' feet, and, of course, black-eyed peas and collard greens -- the traditional southern symbols of good luck and wealth.
"The old saying was, the black-eyed peas are your pennies and the collard greens are your dollars," said Iris Woodridge, who cannot remember a New Year's without those foods. "When I was a kid I didn't like my black-eyed peas, but as I got older I said, 'I need my pennies and I need my dollars.' "
Others said that such meals had been part of their childhood lore in North Carolina and Virginia, and that they continued the practice long after having lost faith in its portentous powers.
"I trampled the city of Alexandria on the first day of 1926 because we had to have black-eyed peas" and hog jowls, recalled 91-year-old Annie B. Rose. "Of course, there's really nothing to it bringing good luck. My father took sick that day and from then on he was never the same."
That's not to say that their New Year's celebrations would be devoid of spirit. Many of the seniors knew exactly where they would be at midnight -- on their knees and deep in prayer. Some said they planned to attend watch-night services at churches around the city.
According to Joe Hickerson, an archivist and folklorist at the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress, all New Year's Eve traditions tend to have something in common -- whether it is the British belief that seeing a man with dark hair first means a year of good luck or the Latin American custom of eating 12 sweet grapes, one for each month, at midnight.
"There is an affirmation of life, a rejuvenation. All these tie in with the death of the old and the birth of the new," he said.
But there are also those who would rather spend their New Year's Eves celebrating that which is familiar and old. Silver Spring residents Jim Cronin, a Montgomery County school board member, and Andy Fiddleman, an investigator in the Office of Consumer Affiars, were planning to spend last night with two friends the same way they have for the last 10 years.
They start with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, then steam lobsters -- a symbol of good luck in Japanese-American folklore -- and drink wine. Afterward they play progressive gin rummy and toast with a glass of champagne at midnight. Their card playing, interrupted only for a few hours sleep, continues through New Year's Day.
"We love it, we plan for it, and we look forward to it every year," Fiddleman said. "We'll eat too much and not even give a damn."