All across the Southeast today, families are sitting down to the traditional meal of the New Year: Roasted Pork, Collard Greens, Black-Eyed Peas, and Cornbread or Buttermilk Biscuits. There are variations to this theme and how it is prepared, but most all Southerners are eating or have eaten this meal on New Year's Day if they want to have wealth and luck in the the new year.
Most people have heard of this superstition, but don't know the history behind the beliefs. It all started with Africa, where both Collards and Black-Eyed Peas are native. Greens are the color of money, so it makes sense they symbolize a wish for a prosperous year, and pork has been associated with gluttony and wealth for centuries. Cornbread or biscuits' golden hue represents the hope for gold, but what in the world do black-eyed peas have to do with it all?
Black-eyed peas have been a part of year end celebrations for over 1,000 years. The peas have been known to show up as part of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, because they symbolize wealth and prosperity; some believe that Sephardic Jewish immigrants brought the tradition when they came to Savannah, Georgia.
Another theory is that after the Civil War, Union soldiers left the field peas and salted pork alone, deeming the foods unfit for human consumption; there ignorance was a blessing to the starving Southerners who considered themselves lucky to have any food.
Whatever the origins of the beliefs, I, like many other Southerners, grew up being told that if we didn't eat our peas and greens we'd be poor all year!
My family is Southern in roots but immigrated North so my childhood was spent in Ohio. To the Southern traditions we added sauerkraut (from the Swartzfager side of the family I'm guessing) so, today we will be cooking sauerkraut and pork, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and buttermilk biscuits and cornbread. Dessert will be Carolina Trifle.
Has the Southern New Year's Tradition made it to your neck of the woods in some fashion? What will you be serving for New Year's Day dinner?