Somewhere, somehow, at some point in time a Tradition begins. A practice, coupled with beliefs or even wisdom, passes from generation to generation and arrives in the modern day. The originating impulse endures, although likely obscured in the telling by palatable contemporary desires and interpretations.
The customary eating of black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day dates back a few centuries in the American South. I had never heard of or partaken in this holiday ritual prior to moving to Arkansas. But I’ve come to enjoy it (minus the ham hock), especially given the freshly cut collards, mustard greens, and kale available from our local farmers.
The black-eyed pea is said to have originated in North Africa and is believed to have crossed to the Americas with Spanish explorers and the slave trade. On-line sources and Southern-born friends explain that welcoming abundance and an appetite for wealth stands at the heart of the tradition. Apparently the greens, specifically collards, represent dollars and the black-eyed peas symbolize coins.
I prefer an alternate story. The black-eyed pea or cowpea is a nutrient-packed legume that grows well in hot, challenging climates. Collard greens sweeten after the first frost and are rich with vitamins. On January 1, looking toward the horizon of a New Year, toward a winter yet to be completed, toward freshly set goals and renewed commitments, what could be more filling, more energizing and endurance-affirming than a celebrated meal of black-eyed peas and tender collard greens?
Happy New Year, Everyone.