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Black-eyed peas on New Year’s Days – the great mystery

What’s your family’s New Year’s Day tradition? For as long as I can remember, my family has gathered at my grandparents’ house in Norco. Cabbage and black-eyed peas are always on the menu, symbolizing good luck and prosperity for the year to come.

As much as I like the idea of financial gain, and as much as I need 2021 to bring better fortune than 2020, I can’t stomach the smells of New Year’s food. I typically go for a plate of corn soufflé with a dinner roll and end my meal with whatever dessert we have on hand for my Paw Paw and Aunt Boo’s birthdays.

I am, however, fascinated that so many families choose to start the year with food selections that don’t seem to be anyone’s favorites. This week, I did some light research on the origins of New Year’s foods. Instead of a simple answer from Google, I found a multitude of theories.

I’ve heard some locals say the tradition of eating cabbage and black-eyed peas started here in St. John the Baptist Parish, in the heart of Frenier. When the only means of transportation was by train or boat, Frenier served as a vegetable farm to provide for the town of Ruddock and other neighboring communities.

The most common explanation links the Southern U.S. tradition of eating black-eyed peas to the American Civil War. The story goes that when Union soldiers raided the Confederates’ food supplies, they left behind the black-eyed peas and salted pork, believing them to be foods not worthy of human consumption. The meager foods provided enough nourishment to help the troops survive the winter and were deemed lucky.

Another account states that enslaved people in the South ate black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day in 1863 to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect. While all slaves were technically freed on that day, we learned from Juneteenth celebrations this year that news of emancipation did not reach all enslaved people in the Southern U.S. until June 19, 1865. However, this theory does hold weight; black-eyed peas originated from Africa approximately 5,000 years ago, and they were thought to have come overseas on slave ships.

Other theories on the black-eyed peas tradition point to Jewish colonists who carried over their New Year’s traditions when they settled in the American South.

The New Year’s cabbage connection appears a little more straightforward. It’s easy to understand how the vegetable could symbolize money, since both are green. Cabbage is also a late season crop, making it convenient to harvest in time for the New Year. Additionally, cabbage is low in calories and high in nutrients – perfect for someone embarking on a weight loss journey for their New Year’s resolution.

As I write this, I am uncertain if I will be able to ring in the New Year with family. I don’t have a New Year’s Resolution, and I won’t have cabbage and black-eyed peas for luck. What I do have is hope that by this time next year, the world will be closer to the “normal” we once took for granted.

Happy New Year! Let’s hope it’s a lucky one!

 

Brooke R. Cantrelle is news editor for L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at brooke.robichaux@lobservateur.com or 985-652-9545.