As with many of the superstitions, there will be several ways to answer a question. In general, it is the belief that black-eyed peas are a lucky entrée for the New Year’s meal. It is especially popular in the southern United States. Much of the belief is stemmed from our history.
The Future and Peas
Most Southerners will tell you that it dates back to the time of the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were considered Slave or animal food. Most field peas such as black-eyed peas or purple hulled peas were not worthy of General Sherman’s Union troops. When the Union soldiers raided the Confederates food supplies, the legend says they took everything except the peas and the salted pork. The Confederates considered themselves incredibly lucky to be left with those meager supplies, and they survived the winter on the peas. This is why Peas became a symbol of luck.
Another version of the belief in the lucky black-eyed pea is the Southern belief that black-eyed peas are lucky because the eyes are always looking forward to the future.
Money and Greens
More traditional New Year’s Day foods served in the south are collard greens and corn bread. These are thought to bring the money on New Year’s Day. The greens’ symbolism is the color of money. Collard greens take the place of cabbage in the south because that’s what is grown here in late fall. It is a southern tradition or belief that each bite you take of greens is worth $1,000 in the New Year.
Got to have Cornbread
Golden baked or fried corn bread symbolizes pocket change or spending money. It is another yet soul food Southerners eat on New Year’s. The tradition stems from the color of the bread. The color represents “gold” or “coin” money. Besides that, what else would you eat with collards and peas that are seasoned with pork?
Pork is Served
As for pork, some say it’s lucky because pigs are forward-facing animals: they can’t look backwards without turning completely around. Others say pigs are just generally associated with the idea of having enough to eat, hence, the phrase “Pigging Out!” It signifies a profitable year. The pork can be served has a whole roasted pig, ham slices or slice hog jowls. These are the sliced cheek of the hog which is served the same way as bacon is served.
What Foods Not to Eat
Additionally to the above-mentioned lucky foods to eat, there are some mentioned here to avoid on New Year’s Day. Chicken and Turkey is discouraged from serving, because the birds scratch backwards. This could cause grief or dwelling on one’s the past.
Another philosophy warns against eating bird, because good luck could fly away. Lobster is, also, a bad idea because of the backwards motions they have and could, hence, lead to setbacks.