An unexpected start to the new year

The year didn’t start as we hoped it would. But the best path forward goes like this: Onward. Don’t stop. Keep going.

A couple of days after Christmas, my neighbor Liz texted to say how much she enjoyed the colored lights on a big bush in my backyard. She can see it at night from her place, and she appreciated that John and I didn’t pull the plug as soon as Christmas Day had passed.

No worries, I told her. My mother taught me that the observance of Christmas must last at least until New Year’s Day (if not longer).

We have a couple of traditions in my family to ensure the holiday doesn’t sputter out at sundown on Dec. 25.

The first one comes from our benefactor Bells Nicholas.

Bells is the poor brother of Saint Nicholas and he comes to the house on New Year’s Eve to fill our stockings with some chocolate and small gifts. Bells has been visiting members of my family since at least the early 1900s. The tradition comes from the line of my maternal grandmother, Miriam McDaniel Akers, who was born in Shinnston, West Virginia, in 1913.

We’re a little sketchy on the origin of the Bells Nicholas story, but it’s been suggested that it comes from a figure in German folklore, Belsnickel, a raggedy character dressed in furs who brought candy to well-behaved children. I think it’s also possible that someone in the McDaniel clan just created Bells out of thin air to liven up the holidays. It worked. 

Grandmother Akers was also responsible for the second tradition that elevates New Year’s Day in my family. This one is pure superstition. 

To ensure good luck for the entire year, Grandmother encouraged us to say “rabbit” first thing on New Year’s Day. It only worked if we said it before we uttered any other word. 

I remembered to say “rabbit” first thing Saturday morning. Then I went downstairs to see what Bells had left in my stocking. He did not disappoint. What a faithful guy he is. 

Things were shaping up nicely for 2022. Even my terrible head cold couldn’t bring me down. 

But a few hours later …

Imagine my disappointment when a friend texted to say a tornado had just hit Hopkinsville near Peace Park.

Predictably, I grouched around the house for a few minutes, complaining about our town’s bad luck, then pulled out my raincoat and headed downtown to report on the storm.

Not that this New Year’s Day letdown is my mine alone. It must feel like a kick in the shins — or worse — to many of us who set our hopes on 2022. And if you are a member of Mount Olive Baptist Church, where the tornado pulled part of the roof from the sanctuary, or you live in a house that was seriously damaged, you must be heartsick. 

I can’t recall another time when so many of us put stock in a new year as the path to better days — something akin to what we had before the pandemic and before this national discord on nearly every possible topic. Can’t we just have plain old 2000-whatever? How about 1980? Is that asking too much? To sort of go back in time to see some improvement?

I know that’s crazy talk — but it’s how I feel sometimes. 

I’ve been thinking recently about advice that two different mentors gave me at pivotal times in my life. 

The first mentor, who was helping me with a big writing project,  said, “Don’t stop. Keep going.”

The second mentor, who was offering support when an opportunity didn’t come my way, simply said, “Onward.”

At our house, we’ll take down the Christmas village and the tree in our den on Sunday. But I think we’ll leave the colored lights in the backyard a while longer.  

We could use the light.

Indeed, 2022 didn’t start as we hoped it would. But the best path forward goes like this: Onward. Don’t stop. Keep going.

Happy New Year, y’all.

An unexpected start to the new year

Jennifer P. Brown | Hoptown Chronicle

Jennifer P. Brown is co-founder, publisher and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at She spent 30 years as a reporter and editor at the Kentucky New Era. She is a co-chair of the national advisory board to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, governing board president for the Kentucky Historical Society, and co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.