Even if you’re not really superstitious, traditions bleed into our lives. Especially if they bring good luck and ward off bad events, what’s the harm in eating some traditional New Year’s food?
Ask any real southerner what their grandparents eat on January 1, and they’ll likely tell you a menu of green, black-eyed peas and cornbread. Those are staples of the local cuisine, but there’s a method to having them on the first day of the new year. Let’s look at those foods and why people eat them when they do.
This Southern staple brings you luck, reportedly. Folklore says greens resemble folded money and the leafy vegetables ensure good fortune for the coming year. Some southern traditions also say you can hang collards by the door to ward off any evil spirits. Can’t hurt, right? So, why not eat a whole mess of these lucky veggies. Greens are also a veggie that’s still in season for January. Different regions alter this with cabbage. People in the Midwest eat sauerkraut or coleslaw, made with cabbage for long life and wealth.
All the Pork!
One thing that really flavors the greens is another traditional food…PORK. Mawmaw’s know nothing seasons those greens like hog jowls, fatback, or ham hocks. Use the holiday to eat “high on the hog,” like the expression and enjoy some delicious sausage, ribs, ham and wrap it all up with bacon.
Pork symbolizes progress. They root around with their snouts in a forward motion. They can’t look backwards. Pigs would have to turn completely around. For that reason, eat pork as a way to make progress in the coming year and wallow in “hog heaven.”
Black-eyed peas are “supposed” to bring you luck if you dine on the “field peas.” While they symbolize good things to come because they’ll germinate and grow, the pea has a huge history in the south. One story goes back to the Civil War, when Union soldiers raided the Confederate army’s food supply. Black-eyed peas were all that was left to eat. Although it was used to feed livestock, southerners were forced to eat it to survive. Ancient history indicates Egyptians ate the pea, which was readily available even for the poorest of slaves. Eating it was a way to show humility to the gods.
All the juices from these good luck foods could be sopped up with a big ol’ piece of southern cornbread. There’s very little history here. It’s said to “resemble gold,” but I just believe it’s a staple side dish. What do you think?
Other Interesting New Year’s Food Traditions
Fish symbolizes abundance in the new year. Ever heard the phrase “many fish in the sea?” Plus, fish swim forward. That’s a callback to the way pigs root forward…progress.
Slurp noodles are said that they bring long life, but only if you eat them without breaking them. The longer the noodle, the longer the life.
Grapes are eaten at midnight in Spain and Mexico. You’re supposed to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes. Each grape represents a month, and the bitter ones represent rough months.
Cake and other ring-shaped treats are said to bring a full circle of luck to you. To me, it’s an excuse for a sweet treat. Bring it on!
Pomegranates are associated with abundance and fertility. Mediterraneans throw whole pomegranates to the floor to release the seeds. You don’t have to hurl your fruit, try this to get out the seeds.
Food to Avoid
Don’t order any lobster! Some people believe the crustacean could bring bad fortune. The reason is that it moves backwards. You’ll want to avoid setbacks in the coming year.
Chicken is also a January 1 no-no for the same reason as lobster. After then, feel free to eat as much chicken as your heart desires.
Now that you know what New Year’s foods to eat for good luck and which ones to avoid, what will you eat?
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