This is why we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day

Top New Year's Day traditions

New Year’s Eve may traditionally include a glass of champagne and/or a kiss with a special someone, but come New Year’s Day, the traditions all encompass what’s on the menu.

Specifically in the South, eating a bowl of black-eyed peas and collard greens has become the standard on New Year’s Day. Many celebrating the new year might just be going along with the offered dishes without the context.

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A few culinary experts have some clues how this tradition came to be. According to celebrated Southern food researcher John Egerton in his book “Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History,” black-eyed peas are associated with a “mystical and mythical power to bring good luck."

According to a report by Southern Living, the black-eyed peas have that lucky reputation reaching all the way back to 500 A.D. as a part of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year.

Linda Pelaccio, who hosts culinary radio show "A Taste of the Past," told USA Today that peas and other lentils are associated with the holiday. Eating them along with collards, with their green color, represent a financially prosperous new year.

Black-eyed peas in the South

Black-eyed peas are a New Year’s tradition in the South.
Black-eyed peas are a New Year’s tradition in the South.

Though its roots do not stem from the South, eating black-eyed peas in particular dishes has become a Southern tradition, Pelaccio said. Black-eyed peas are served with rice in the traditional Southern U.S. dish called “Hoppin’ John” for New Year’s Eve. Or, the peas can be part of a soup. In Italy, lentils mix with pork for a lucky dish. That tradition of eating the peas with rice is of African origin, and it became popular in the South later, especially in the Carolinas.

Other black-eyed peas combos

Black-eyed peas with corn bread represents gold, according to Southern Living. Stew your black-eyed peas with tomatoes and they become a symbol of wealth and health.

One unusual but common New Year’s Day black-eyed peas tradition involves putting actual money in the dish. Some add to their “luck” by cooking their pot of peas with a penny or dime inside. Whoever gets the bowl with the coin in it, according to legend, has the best luck for the new year.

Here’s a bit more on New Year’s Day recipes and dishes:

ExploreMake Kevin Gillespie’s collard greens recipe for a good new year
ExploreSaving Southern Recipes: Old-Fashioned Hoppin’ John
ExploreMake recipes for greens and rice from Kevin Gillespie for a lucky New Year

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