By Sarah Naron
Everyone wants to start off the New Year with as much good luck as possible, and many people believe that the kitchen is a great place to start. Consuming special foods such as black-eyed peas, cabbage and pork has long been a Southern tradition, one that is sure to bring a year of prosperity to all who partake.
Popular folklore traces the tradition of including black-eyed peas in the New Year’s dinner back to the Civil War. The story goes that Union troops led by General William Tecumseh Sherman raided the Confederate States Army’s food supply, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and salted pork, which were considered foods fit only for animals to eat. Despite losing the rest of their food, the Confederate soldiers considered having the “animal foods” left good fortune.
Some history buffs claim that the tradition is linked to the African Americans, who consumed the black-eyed peas as a celebratory meal after being granted freedom when the Emancipation Proclamation became law on New Year’s Day in 1863. Others believe the peas simply bore a likeness to coins and were therefore seen as a symbol of wealth.
Some traditions call for the peas to be prepared as plain as possible as a way of showing humility, while others suggest dropping in a dime or other coin while the peas cook. Whoever finds the coin in their serving is considered to be especially lucky.
Considering the many health benefits of raw cabbage – plentiful levels of calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin C and the designation by the National Cancer Institute as one of the top cancer-fighting foods – it’s a great choice if you’re looking to start out the New Year on the right foot.
While some sources cite the green leaves of cabbage as being representative of money and prosperity to come as a reason for the vegetable being included in New Year’s meals, the truth of the matter lies closer to the fact that cabbage and similar greens are late crops of which there is no shortage during this time of year in the South.
In addition, cornbread is traditionally seen as a way of starting off the year on a lucky note, as its golden hue just might lure some golden wealth to come your way.
In many New Year’s Day dinners, pork is featured as the main course. Many cultures view pigs as lucky, and since a hog is a rooting animal while alive, eating one is said to be symbolic of “pushing forward” into the New Year. As is true for cabbage, however, pork was originally included – typically in the form of bacon or jowl meat – in meals due to its plentiful availability on New Year’s Day.
Sarah Naron may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.