Brandon got up early this morning to get our traditional New Years’ dinner going. It’s a tradition he takes seriously: Eat poor on New Years’; you’ll eat fat the rest of the year.
Like most North Carolina families, we eat the traditional “poor man’s meal” of pork, black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. I can’t remember my family observing the custom, though the meal was commonplace around our table. Of course, mamaw and papaw may have honored the tradition, and I was just too little to notice.
Brandon says he can’t remember a single year that his family didn’t gather to eat the classic meal. Liking the food wasn’t necessary, but you had to clear your plate because it meant good luck for the year to come.
The custom goes back to the Civil War when Union troops emptied the countryside of food to feed their armies. The Northerners only left behind what they considered animal fodder: salted pork, corn, black-eyed peas, and greens. With nothing else to eat, Southern families were lucky to have what was left behind. Southerners continue to eat the meal as a reminder to be thankful for what they have.
For me, that’s plenty enough reason to choke down my greens, but supposedly there’s another layer of meaning in this meal. Each dish for the feast has its own symbolic meaning. Greens represent money, black-eyed peas are for luck, pork means prosperity, and cornbread symbolizes gold. Filling up on these dishes is thought to bring us wealth, health, and good fortune.
Maybe it’s superstitious, but I have to admit, our circumstances improved once Brandon started force-feeding us the traditional New Years’ dinner. I mean, it’s probably not the meal – but I’m not taking any chances either!