Updated on December 30, 2016
Black-eyed peas and Lucky New Year’s Foods
It doesn’t matter whether the peas are fresh, frozen, or canned, you must have at least one pea if you want good luck in the coming New Year.
The tradition originated with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march from Atlanta to Savanah, Georgia, in the fall of 1864 during the War of Northern Aggression. (Okay, it’s called the Civil War. I’m using the term preferred by diehard southerners.)
Sherman’s soldiers stripped the Georgia countryside of crops, robbed food stores and killed or carried away livestock as they progressed toward the sea. The troops passed over the field peas, what we call black-eyed peas, thinking the legumes were for animal feed. The plantation owners with untouched fields of black-eyed peas felt lucky to have food for the winter.
There are other foods here in the U.S. and around the world considered “lucky” to eat on New Year’s Day.
Greens. Collards, kale, or chard because they’re green like money.
Grains and noodles. Grains (corn, rice, quinoa, barley) are symbols of long life and abundance.
Ring shaped cakes and pastries. The circular shape suggests coming full circle. In Denmark, you might be served a dramatically tall, ringed cake called Kransekage, a cone-shaped pastry constructed of ever smaller concentric circles.
Pork. Pigs are a worldwide symbol of prosperity and a lucky New Year’s food, especially in Germany. The symbolism dates back to old decks of playing cards, in which the ace was known as die Sau (a sow, or female pig). The expression Schwein haben became a synonym for being lucky.
Fruit. In Spain, Portugal and many Latin American countries, New Year’s revelers eat 12 grapes at midnight— one grape for each stroke of the clock. If one grape is sour, that month might not be so fortunate. Other lucky fruits include pomegranate and figs. Pomegranate seeds suggest prosperity and figs fertility.
If you didn’t try any lucky foods yesterday, you might consider eating a few today just in case. After all, you can’t have too much good luck.