Black Is…Our New Year Traditions

Family, Featured, History & Politics

Happy 2011 Folks! Celebrations are still happening around the world to ring in this new year and of course, our community is not without its own. Though every family has its own way of celebrating, some commonalities shared amongst many families in the black community is the eating ritual on New Year’s Day. My family cooks for New Year’s like they do for Christmas – with a few exceptions. For New Year’s, the following dishes must be present: black-eyed peas, chitlins, and pig’s feet. My grandmother would say eating these foods on the first day of the year would bring us good luck. Since I never questioned granny, I’ve never had the background knowledge of how these traditions started and why these foods held certain meanings. This year, I did some research to know why I’m eating black-eyed peas every first day of the year. Here is what I discovered:

Black-Eyed Peas: the tradition of eating black-eyed peas isn’t just a Black tradition, but a Southern one. It is believed that the tradition dates back to the Civil War during General Sherman’s March to the Sea in November of 1864. On General Sherman’s orders, soldiers destroyed all crops, livestock and food as they marched from Atlanta to the Port of Savannah. The only cropped that remained untouched for the Southerners were black-eyed peas. It is believed the troops didn’t realize people ate the peas since in the North, black-eyed peas (also called cowpeas) were eaten by cattle, not humans.

As such the black-eyed pea has become a symbol of good fortune since it saved the South. They symbolize wealth because some believe they look like coins, and they symbolize prosperity because they swell when cooked.

Greens and Cornbread: In addition to the peas, greens and cornbread are also a New Year food tradition (and in some families, on any holiday). The greens represent money, and the cornbread represents a brick of gold.

Chitterlings (Chitlins) and Pig’s Feet: The consumption of chitlins (hog intestines) dates back to slavery when most slaves were given one week off: the week between Christmas and New Year’s. During that time, their masters would give them Christmas “gifts” – typically hand-me-down items, but primarily food. This often consisted of remnants from hog slaughters and included the chitterlings, hog head, pig feet, hog maws, and a few salted pieces of pork, all of which found their way into our soul food. Though this food was considered the base of the hog, for slaves it was good eating especially during the cold winters in the South.

What New Year’s traditions did you grow up with?

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