Black-eyed Peas-A Southern New Year's Tradition
What New Year's traditions do you participate in?
For those of us in the southern United States, it is very common to be offered a generous helping of black-eyed peas or cabbage just after midnight on New Year's Eve into New Year's Day.
According to Southern folklore, black-eyed peas are supposed to be the first thing you eat on New Year's Day in order to ensure good luck and prosperity thoughout the coming year. Cabbage is supposed to represent money.
Even people who do not typically care for black-eyed peas or cabbage will at least eat a spoonful or a bite or two just to ensure good luck for the New Year. Who wants to chance it, right?
The Tradition Begins
It is believed that this New Year's practice started around the time of the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were first planted as food for livestock, but later became a staple for Southerners, particularly slaves.
General Sherman’s Union troops destroyed or stole all the other crops from the Confederates, but left behind the black-eyed peas thinking they were only suitable as livestock food. This made the black-eyed pea an important source of nourishment for the surviving Confederates.
There are numerous beliefs about what the black-eyed peas represent and what they should be eaten with to ensure the prosperity and good fortune.
Some examples are:
- Serving cornbread with black-eyed peas is supposed to represent gold.
- Some believe that you should eat at least 365 black-eyed peas to make sure you cover the entire year. Some believe a single pea is all you need. That idea seems to work well among those who don't particularly care for black-eyed peas.
- Some believe that you should have something green along with your peas. The black-eyed peas, in this case represent coins, but to have dollars you need cabbage or turnip greens. Cabbage and cabbage rolls are quite common in my family.
- Tomatoes are considered heart-healthy and therefore eating stewed tomatoes with black-eyed peas is considered taking care of your wealth and health for the New Year.
- I’ve never heard of this, but some add a shiny penny or dime to the pot of black-eyed peas just before serving. Whoever ladles up the coin is the luckiest.