Happy New Year!  Want to have a healthy, wealthy and happy year?  Start by dining on black-eyed peas.

At exactly midnight, like millions around the world,  we brought in the new year with a kiss and a champagne toast.  The other New Year’s Day tradition we followed was one that filled our spirits and stomachs with good luck.  We hosted our traditional New Year’s Day dinner. It was a satiating feast of  black-eyed peas, cabbage, cornbread and, instead of the traditional chitlins, ham or hog jowl or fatback, we served baked salmon.

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Black-eyed peas and cornbread with greens—collards, cabbage, mustard greens or a green salad—are a longtime tradition embraced by many in the United States from the South. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day has been a part of the Southern tradition for more than 200 years and considered good luck for at least 1,500 years.

The tradition may have traveled to America with the Sephardic Jews around the 1730s when they settled in Georgia. It was a tradition to eat black-eyed peas in celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Initially black-eyed peas were used as food for livestock, therefore, the crop was ignored by General Sherman’s troops during the Civil War and became a major source of food for surviving Confederate soldiers.

Why is the meal considered good luck?  The foods symbolize money and prosperity throughout the year. Black-eyed peas are associated with coins or pennies. Greens, the color of money, represent paper dollars. Cornbread symbolizes  gold. Black-eyed peas eaten with tomatoes represent wealth and good health.

There are several other traditions associated with the good luck meal. Adding a shiny penny or dime to the pot just before serving is one. When served, the person whose bowl contains the penny or dime receives the best luck for the New Year. If the person swallows the coin, naturally it’s an unlucky start.

Many believe you must eat at least 365 black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to have prosperity throughout the year. Happy eating and happy New Year!

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