Southern tradition: Black-eyed peas on New Year’s

I know New Year’s Day is past, but at Identity Dixie, I read an interesting and historical piece on why Southerners eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s day. I was always told it was ”good luck”, but there is more to this custom.

I learned some history from reading the piece. And it makes you think about the importance of ”culture, people, identity.”

 

6 thoughts on “Southern tradition: Black-eyed peas on New Year’s

  1. Wow, this is very interesting. Thanks for posting this!

    I, too, have always been told that the tradition is observed for “good luck.” And I own, with some embarrassment, that it has never even occurred to me that there might in fact be more behind the tradition than a sort of a superstitious belief that eating black-eyed peas at the dawn of the new year will somehow bring good luck/prevent bad luck. I should have known better than that.

    I plan to investigate this further, but in the meantime the Wikipedia article on the topic is helpful in certain ways. The claim in the article is that the greens that are often served with the peas on the occasion represent money, that the cornbread represents gold, and that the pork represents a pig’s “foraging forward.” Somehow I detect, as I’m sure you do as well, the influence of Yankee carpetbagging greed in that “meaning” of the various elements of the tradition. The legend of the Southern meaning is discounted in the article as improbable based on lack of knowledge and understanding (in the writer), or at least his/her disbelief in General Sherman’s own account of his army’s infamous “March to the Sea” expedition.

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    • Terry, the Wikipedia page probably reflects the usual bias though it has some interesting info. Maybe it needs editing. ;).
      I’ve heard some of the lore, such as the greens symbolizing money, etc., but I am not sure I agree.
      There might be more to the story than the obvious aspects, I would think. It’s interesting to look into.
      -VA

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  2. Although I live near Richmond, I’ve lost a great deal of my old “South will rise again” feeling; if there is a change coming for this country, it’s more likely to be based in the northern plains/northern Rockies region (Dakotas, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana) than in Dixie; other than myself and my relatives (all of us north of fifty), I don’t even know anyone these days who has a Southern accent.

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    • Steve, I grew up hearing the older generations saying ‘the South will rise again.’ There was much more of that when I was a child, but as I’ve written the South has changed (or has been changed) so much that I have some doubt myself whether there will ever be that change you allude to.
      I don’t know if the Northern plains/mountain states could be where such a movement might start. Those areas too are being changed demographically. Northern Idaho and Montana, even, have seen some in-migration and of course some refugees established in those areas. Utah (with the Mormon population) has encouraged a lot of that. I think that there has been some effort to counter the influx of right-wing Christians who recently settled in some parts of that area.

      Sadly you are right about the fading away of the Southern accent, especially among the younger generations. The media, and the increasing number of people from outside the South, have changed the way people speak.
      Still we can always hope that this is something that could be reversed.
      ‘Resurgam’ as the saying goes.
      -VA

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  3. My wife, who I married in October, has a Southern accent; though not a native Southerner, she grew up in North Carolina. We both found the story on black eyed peas interesting, as her parents used to do that every New Year’s.

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  4. VA, and all:

    See pg. 209 of The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl in connection to this post. Below is the relevant excerpt providing at least circumstantial evidence as to the veracity of the tradition’s origins. Miss Andrews wrote:

    We have no kind of meat in our house but ham and bacon, and have to eat hominy instead of rice, at dinner. Sometimes we get a few vegetables out of the garden, but everything has been so stripped to feed the soldiers, that we never have enough to spread a respectable meal before a large number of guests, expected and unexpected, who sit down to our table everyday. In spite of all we can do, there is a look of scantiness about the table that makes people afraid to eat as much as they want – and the dreadful things we have to give them, at that! Cornfield peas have been our staple diet for the last ten days. Mother has them cooked in every variety of style she ever heard of, but they are cornfield peas still. All this would have been horribly mortifying a year or two ago, but everybody knows how it is now, and I am glad to have even cornfield peas to share with the soldiers.

    This is one of several quotations in Miss Andrews’s memoirs in which she refers to the necessity of resorting to the detested “cornfield pea,” of which the black-eyed pea is merely one variety, for survival’s sake. These entries also prove that the cornfield pea indeed escaped destruction by Sherman’s army, at least in those locations just outside of his army’s murderous tentacles. One such place was Miss Andrews’s little village in northeast Georgia named Washington. Which place became, according to her diary, a great thoroughfare through which streamed many a ragged and hungry Confederate, on his way home east or west following General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox courthouse. As an aside, the little town also has the distinction of having been the place where Jefferson Davis held his last cabinet meeting.

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