If you’re born-and-raised in the U.S. south, you never skip eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
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.
I guess that like Hiroshima, the drastic measure of Sherman did end a terrible war. And, after all, he did leave the black eyed peas to start a delicious tradition.
However, in my family, we still do not get a warm fuzzy feeling when old Sherman’s name is mentioned.
Still, I do like my black eyed peas, and insist upon ham for Christmas so we have a ham hock to pop into the slow cooker to flavor them. It’s an inexpensive and delicious way to start a new year. I didn’t know why until now, It was just one of the rules I follow with love of the family heritage, As a steel magnolia would say, “I just follow the rules. I don’t make them.” In this case, my grandmother was right.
Happy New Year! Let’s make this one count.