Tuscarora New Year's Festival
A few days ahead of January 1, the people make other preparations for the Nu Yah. They bake cookies, doughnuts, or other sweet foods in anticipation of the visits they will receive from the people who are out Nu Yahing on the morning of January 1. Doughnuts, cookies, little cakes, or fruit are the general Nu Yah gifts. Some people buy these sweets at the store, but those who bake their own are always proud of the fact.
People get up early and go from house to house. In the old days it was by horse and sleigh. Clinton Rickard had an ox team which he used to hitch up to his sleigh to make the rounds. Today, the visiting is done mostly by automobile. Some of those who start out walking are usually picked up by some one in a car or truck. A number of men own trucks and will carry a gang of neighborhood children around for Nu Yahing.
Occasionally the householder will meet the visitors at the door and hand out the bowl of food to them. Usually, however, the visitors go right into a house without knocking and call out, "Nu Yah! Nu Yah!" Note 22 The table containing the food is just inside the door, and each visitor takes a piece. There may be a few pleasantries exchanged, but the stay is only brief. There are many houses to visit. Note 23
Nu Yahing. [Photo by Barbara Graymont.]
If the house contains a member of the father's clan, the visitor calls out, "Nu Yah, uwiirae'!" This word, uwiirae', means literally, "baby," or figuratively, "relative." It is the same word that is used in the expression, "She has a baby." The caller is then entitled to the symbolic baby doll, which is a gingerbread man. A piece of pie may also be given in place of the baby doll to the person claiming uwiirae'. Sometimes a favored individual in this category receives a whole pie.
Years ago, when the Tuscaroras were a lot more strict about clan intermarriage than they are today, when a child whose parents had married too closely came to the door and claimed uwiirae', he received a doll with the head broken off. It was then left to the child's parents to explain the meaning of these decapitated dolls when the child came home. The expression: "They have their heads cut off," is still in use. A male child from such a union is not supposed to be eligible for chieftainship.
At noon, the Nu Yahing is over. People return home, get into their good clothes and go to the feast, which is served around 12:30 or 1:00. This feast is sponsored by the Temperance Society. Everyone is welcome. No one is turned away. No one is required to pay. "That day everyone is equal. Rich or poor-all eat the same," Clinton Rickard commented.
Photo Courtesy of [Rick and Mary Jane Rickard]
Photo by [Rick and Mary Jane Rickard]
The meal is opened with grace, then the diners are seated according to numbered tickets which they have secured ahead of time. For some while after the council house burned, the feast was served in the basement of the Baptist church. The area was very small compared to the gym, and no tickets were given out. This resulted in much crowding and confusion. As a result, a more orderly method was instituted, and tickets were used. Diners were seated when their ticket numbers were called out and not before. With the use of this method at the gymnasium, accommodations are provided for a little more than 100 at a sitting; and over 400 persons are generally served at each feast. The meal consists of both white and Indian style foods. The most popular foods are those that are the most authentically Indian, such as the game pie and the boiled Indian corn bread.
Chester Bomberry (left) and Sherman Green make cornbread for the Nu Yah feast. [Photo by Barbara Graymont.]
The feast is not complete without some of each. Years ago, the meal was completely free. Now donations are requested to help pay for the food which must be bought, such as ham and coffee. Also, if insufficient food is donated ahead of time, more must be bought. A plate used to be left at the end of each table for contributions. Now a small dish is sent around each table for donations. No one, however, is turned away from the meal, whether he pays or not.