I grew up in a family with some deeply rooted Southern traditions, and with those traditions come some pretty strange superstitions. Never are those more prevalent than around New Year’s. In fact, many Southerners will tell you that New Year’s Day is the most superstitious day of the year! Growing up with a grandmother who was incredibly invested in the New Year’s superstitions, the entire day was defined by tradition, from what we ate to the types of house work we could do. I’ll admit that I don’t buy into it all whole heartedly, but when it means I get to eat some of my favorite food, I’ll go along with the superstitions. For most Southerners, a New Year’s Day meal must include greens, pork, black-eyed peas, and cornbread.
Collard greens are the most traditional green eaten on the first day of the New Year in the South and it’s said that they represent folded money. Eating them will guarantee money in your pocket in the coming year. In other areas of the country the greens can be cabbage, turnip greens, spinach, even kale, but in my family, it’s always these Southern-Style Collard Greens. It might also have a lot to do with the fact that collards are a late crop here in the South and just about the only leafy green available.
Black-eyed peas are also eaten on New Year’s Day, and it’s believed that eating them brings you good luck. Some even go as far as eating 365 peas, one for every day of the new year! Many people eat them by themselves, but folks in the low country of the Carolinas eat theirs in a dish called Hoppin’ John. It has many variations, but almost always contains black-eyed peas and rice. In my family, it’s also custom to add a few dried black eyed peas to your wallet on this day, to ensure you will always have money.
Pork is also a popular menu item on New Year’s Day in the South. Pigs always root forward and are incapable of looking behind them, as such, it is told that eating pork symbolizes moving forward and letting go of the past. We cook most things on New Year’s Day, like our collards and black-eyed peas, with hog jowl or ham hocks just to make sure we get enough pork in. This recipe for Slow-Cooker Southern-Style Ham is an easy way to get your quota of pork without a lot of work.
Many Southern tables are never complete without cornbread and New Year’s Day is no exception. Not only does cornbread make a great complement to things like black-eyed peas and collard greens, but the golden color is said to symbolize riches in the coming year. Betty Crocker’s Southern Buttermilk Cornbread is the perfect recipe.
This menu just begins to scrape the surface of the New Year’s Day superstitions in my family. My grandmother won’t allow anyone in the family to wash clothes on January 1st. She claims that washing on New Year’s Day will “wash a family member out of your life.” She also claims that you can’t take anything out of the house on that day. If you do, you must be sure to bring something in first. All of this is to ensure a year of prosperity. While there are many explanations about why these traditions hang on, the truth of the matter is many folks keep them alive because that’s what they’ve always done. It’s that way in my family. My grandmother and great-grandmother followed these superstitions and we continue them on today.
Regardless of what you might find on your table or what kinds of crazy traditions you might follow, here’s to 2014! May it be a year of good fortune for us all!