As a child, I was required to at least take a bite of two things that I hated on New Year’s Day—black-eyed peas and collard greens. That was the only time of year I would eat those two things and I only did it then because I wasn’t given a choice. According to my grandmother, it was something you were “supposed” to do. Arguing with her would have only gotten me in trouble. So every year, I tasted the peas and greens.
As I got older, I started wondering about the origins of Southern New Year’s food. We have our own menu for that day. The menu must include black-eyed peas, collard greens, ham and cornbread. People all over the world and throughout the U.S. celebrate the beginning of a new year with a variety of traditions, but the ones I have grew up with are the ones that fascinate me most.
The tradition of black-eyed peas began after Sherman’s troops raided the Confederate Army leaving only the black-eyed peas and salted pork, believing them to be animal foods. The Confederates considered these foods to be a sign of good fortune. There are some who toss a coin into the peas as they cook and the one who ends up with the coin on their plate is considered lucky, unless they swallow it. Definitely not the most sanitary of practices and I don’t want to risk anyone choking on a coin.
Collard greens are a simple of good health and wealth. These are two things that we’d each like to embrace as a new year begins. Another reason that both collard greens and cabbage are eaten on January 1is pretty simple—these crops are still in season in the South. You can’t go wrong with something fresh from the garden. The green color represents cash, or the wealth that each individual should hope to earn in the new year.
Cornbread is a southern staple that originated with Native Americans. It is a staple of Southern suppers. The reason it is a go-to on New Year’s Day is because of its golden color. Old wives’ tales say that the color represents that “golden opportunities” that a new year will bring. Besides the golden color, what would a proper traditional Southern meal really be without cornbread?
One traditional Southern New Year’s food that I have never tried and have no plans to is hog jowls. I am a fan of bacon and ham, but I won’t venture too far from those. Pork symbolizes wealth and gluttony and according to tradition, the more of it you eat on New Year’s Day, the luckier you will be the coming year. I suppose that could be true in a world where problems with blood pressure don’t exist! The popularity of hog jowls in the south dates back to the days when families would raise and butcher their own meet. A single pig could feed a family for months and the salt-cured jowls were considered treats at one time.
Southerners are steeped in their traditions, but they will branch out. A tradition that Southerners have embraced that did not originate in the South is fireworks. The Chinese have incorporated fireworks in their celebrations for centuries. Fireworks provide a bright beginning for the new year. The sounds are also said to frighten away any lingering evil spirits from the previous year. They also frighten my dogs and because where I live is not in the city limits, they are extremely popular!
I won’t be using fireworks to bring in the New Year, but I will plan for the food as tradition mandates. Thoughts of good fortune, health, wealth and golden opportunities are welcomed thoughts any day of the year!
Happy New Year!
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.