December 26, 2012 —
My sister-in-law is not a superstitious person, but on New Year’s Day, she insists on serving black-eyed peas with her holiday dinner. This is supposed to bring good luck for the New Year for everyone who sits down at her table. Mind you, she’s not from the South, where this tradition comes from in the U.S., and she’s not Jewish either. (I bet you didn’t know that eating black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, also is considered lucky.)
This weekend, I know she’s going to call to wish us a Happy New Year and she’s going to urge me to cook up some black-eyed peas. Hoppin’ John, another Southern dish, would meet her criteria also because it combines black-eyed peas, rice, chopped onion and sliced bacon.
Other cultures eat other kinds of beans—lentils or chickpeas, for example—to celebrate the New Year. Beans, particularly dried beans, are seen to symbolize money—little “coins” that swell up or expand during cooking.
Greens are often served on New Year’s Day in several countries, because—you guessed it—green is the color of money. (If only one could eat his or her way to prosperity.) Anyway, we’re talking about serving up chard, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, cabbage or some other greens to your family or dinner guests; you take your pick.
After a little research, I’ve discovered that golden-colored food also means good luck and prosperity in some cultures. Cornbread is mentioned, and also Carolina gold rice (although sadly, that’s now reportedly extinct).
Pork is also frequently served for good luck in countries like Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Germany and Sweden. Why pork? For one thing, the pig moves forward when rooting in the dirt for food. (And heavens, if you’re superstitious don’t consider chicken for your holiday meal; chickens move backwards when scratching for their food. Who knew?)
Another explanation for pork is that the fat symbolizes wealth and prosperity.
So, there you have it. I think I have just planned my New Year’s Day meal: pork, greens, beans, rice and maybe cornbread.
What’s for dessert?