The United States has many different traditions that vary from region to region, but one of the best known from the south is the custom of eating black eyed peas to bring good luck. For instance, around these parts, Jan. 1 is a day for a traditional meal of black-eyed peas, hog jowl and collard greens or cabbage served with fried cornbread. Tradition demands that every family member must partake, even if it is only a bite of each, for the sake of good luck in the new year. Ever wonder why those particular foods are so strongly imbedded in our southern heritage?
The tradition is believed to have originated back during Civil War times when Union soldiers raided Southern homes, taking virtually all of the food and domesticated animals. They burned the crops, but mostly ignored the fields of black-eyed peas and collard greens, because they thought them to be food for the livestock and of no value otherwise. The European wild boar, that was first let loose in America in the early 1800s as a game animal, was plentiful, so pork became an important supply of meat. These few food sources left to sustain the people and the southern soldiers came to represent good fortune.
On New Year’s Day, we remember our southern ancestors and how the American Civil War affected so many lives. We usually eat black-eyed peas, pork and collard greens for dinner on New Year’s Day for good luck and in remembrance of times of hardship and courage. The peas are typically cooked with a pork product for flavoring (such as bacon, ham bones, fatback or hog jowl), diced onion and served with a hot chili sauce or a pepper-vinegar. Black-eyed peas, since they swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity; greens symbolize money; pork, because pigs root forward when foraging, represents positive motion. Cornbread, in some form, almost always served alongside, represents gold. It is said that if you eat these foods on New Year’s Day, you will have plenty of money, good health and luck that coming year. Whether it really works or not, it’s a tradition that southerners cherish and follow each New Year’s Day.
Everything from “Auld Lang Syne” and eating black eyed peas to champagne toasts and the midnight countdown stems from the thought that what one does in the last fateful moments of the year will have a direct effect on the year to come. And just as champagne and kissing at midnight are longstanding rituals in the U.S., there are a wide variety of traditions unique to different countries across the globe. From prizes hidden in cakes to eating 12 grapes at midnight, many of the world’s year-end traditions revolve around food and drink which are associated with bringing luck and comfort, symbolizing wealth or resourcefulness and even having healing powers.
It was my good fortune to usher in the new year with dear friends. Those present dined on the traditional black-eyed peas, hog jowl, collard greens, cabbage and fried cornbread. Oh, I forgot to mention, I also greeted the new year with a little sip or two of “the bubbly.”