As we prepare for the New Year many traditions come to mind. I know that in my house we prepare the Black-Eyed Peas and the Greens to be a part of the first meal of the New Year, but for the first time someone I knew was unfamiliar with the tradition.
So I tried my hardest to explain why we do so, giving the whole, “We do it for good luck and money!” response. That did not satisfy my friend’s curiosity neither did it satisfy my own, so I looked it up and thought I would share what I found with my Fabulous! GospelFab! Family.
There are several New Year’s Traditions. In Spain and Mexico, the New Year’s tradition is to eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight as the New Year dawns. In the Philippines, food stays on the table from the old year to the new to ensure a plentiful table all year.
In Japan, it’s soba noodles for a long life. In the Southern region of America (however I think it may be beyond that region–you tell me since technically I live below the Mason Dixon Line), for luck and money, it’s black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day.
So why Black-Eyed peas? Black-eyed peas, sometimes called cowpeas, likely came to the United States via the West African slave trade. Africa however, whether the source of their provenance or not, certainly seems to be the location from which they were introduced to America, for it was the slave trade that prompted the black-eyed peas’ transatlantic journey. Black-eyed peas subsequently became popular throughout the West Indies and the American south and thus became a regular fixture in southern cuisine and soul food.
The Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas and greens for good luck on New Year’s Day came about during the Civil War, according to foodreference.com.
The beans were originally grown for animal feed, then as a staple for slaves. Union troops rampaging through the Confederate states toward the end of the war stole livestock and food and burned crops, but they left the peas alone because they weren’t considered fit for eating. Hungry Southerners proved them wrong.
From other sources interestingly, the belief that black-eyed peas are a symbol of good luck in the New Year originates in the Babylonian Talmud from the early centuries AD. A Talmud is a compilation of rabbinical discussions outlining Jewish law. There is evidence that Jewish immigrants to the American south were another source of proliferation of the black-eyed pea. And while everyone’s jumping on the black-eyed pea credit bandwagon, let’s acknowledge the Union soldiers too, though not out of benevolent intentions. It was not uncommon for Union soldiers, after conquering an area of land, to destroy or steal the crops. The Yanks however, considered common beans, peas and corn inferior products, suitable only for animal fodder. Subsequently, these items were often sparred depredation. This oversight, in addition to helping sustain the southern population, allowed for the continued popularity of black-eyed peas.
The peas also symbolize coins and the collard or turnip greens traditionally served with them represent paper money.
Other sources say that until after World War I, the tradition was kept mostly by the poor, because the middle class equated the peas with poverty and hardship.
So with my curiosity now satisfied, there you have it: A New Years tradition that stems from centuries old Jewish tradition, the evils of slavery, and the ignorance of the Union army. Who could have possibly conceived that such a bizarre compilation of forces could foster a such a tradition? And don’t get it twisted, this tradition of superstition and well wishes is not just a black thing!
Have a Fab! New Year, much love GospelFab! Girl