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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