‘Twas the night before New Year’s

Family customs, especially those based on folklore, are a lot like recipes – they change bit by bit over the years as they’re passed down. In my family Momma brought the New Year’s Eve custom of “Jabless” (pronounced “Jah-bless”) to us, as her mother, our mémère, had done for her children.

Here’s how the Jabless custom goes: On New Year’s Eve, the children put out a sock*, usually near the Christmas tree or tacked to the mantelpiece if they have one. By morning, a lady named Jabless has snuck into the house and filled the socks with small treats and often, things that Santa had forgotten when he had “passed” a week before (like toy batteries or “goop” for the Creeple People set). Most common items were dollar-store toys like sets of jacks, cap-guns, or paddle balls, along with candies (my favorite were the yellow banana candies and the candy necklesses). 

As a child I wasn’t really concerned about who this Jabless lady was. My lack of interest was far outweighed by the fact that, a week after Christmas, Jabless was going to pass on New Year’s Eve and fill our socks with those toys and goodies. This custom extended the whole gift-getting season – and that fact was my favorite feature of our Jabless tradition.

When asked about her provenance, Momma or Mémère shared a very perfunctory story that Jabless was Santa’s wife, who, like her husband, only gave out her treats if you were not a little asshole during the year. But there was an alternate story: that Jabless was actually a gnarled old witch who apparently would suffer a nice streak once a year – on New Year’s Eve, and who conveniently lived on our street, only a couple doors down in a little red cabane (cabin, or in this case, probably a tool shed) in a neighbor’s back yard. That’s the story I stick with (as folklore, Santa’s wife is too bright and, well, boring for me).

But, like all good folktales, there’s even more to the Jabless story, of course, and I’m happy to report that it’s more in line with the witch version than the Santa’s wife version. You can read about it here. The origin seems to be Trinidadian, which makes me think the Creoles brought it up to Louisiana and that, while my grandparents were Cajun, not Creole, the stories of those two cultures sometimes liked to dance together in the state’s bayous and swamps.

Did your family have a similar custom involving a lady who brought things on New Year’s Eve, and if so, what was her name? And do you still practice this custom? Lemme know in the comments.

*For us, it was always socks. We weren’t fancy – so those Christmas “stockings” that got filled at other people’s houses did not make an appearance at ours. 

C’est tout! M

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Morris Ardoin’s book, STONE MOTEL – MEMOIRS of a CAJUN BOY can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indibound, and other booksellers, and is also available as an audiobook on Audible.

Main photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Laura says:

    Never heard of that custom! How interesting. I still follow the more common Southern tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Eve. Reminds me, I better pick some up today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Laura! Happy New Year’s! I need to get some blackeyes too! I usually make the cabbage, blackeyes, cornbread, and roast beef – to make sure I have a good year. Last year I did not do that. And see what happened!?!

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      1. Laura says:

        Hope you have a large pot of peas simmering! I brushed up on the details and apparently it is New Year’s DAY for the peas – and a lucky person finding a dime in the dish.

        Like

  2. gingerkellergannaway says:

    I love this tradition – a balance of excitement and fear. Reminds me of those scary Mardi Gras revelers on horseback!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right! Now I won’t be able to think of them separately any more!

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  4. jodylpowell says:

    Grew up 20 miles down the road from you and never heard of this tradition. But I do like the idea of extending the surprises…..and those banana candies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! It was definitely unusual – The people next door to us didn’t have Jabless either. But so much great candy – always a good component of any folkloric tradition! You should start doing it this year for your grands!!

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  5. Richard Weeks says:

    Hi Morris-just discovered you today. Can’t wait to read your book. I grew up in East Texas but spent 20 years in New Orleans in the insurance field. I’m in Seattle now but get to NYC frequently. I saw the last Molin Rouge on B’Way-12March2020. I can’t wait to read your book.

    Happy New Year and looking forward to 2020 being all hindsight. We do the black eyed pea and cabbage thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Richard! Hope you like the book. I also recorded an audiobook if you enjoy listening to a Coonass read! Happy 2021!!!

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  6. gmgannaway says:

    Thanks for the very entertaining story about your custom on December 31 and for the link to the video. Of course, the devil-woman would have to appear to drunken men; they would not notice the left foot of an animal. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol! I think you’re right!

      Like

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