Black American New Year’s traditions have deep roots in Southern rituals. Fueled by intention and symbolism, these food traditions affirm a collective sense of hope for Black people to carry into the New Year and beyond. The roots of these traditions trace back to the convergence of West African and American traditions, where African culinary practices intersected with the cooking methods and ingredients of the American South.
These traditions are not isolated; they are part of global culinary customs. Just as Black Americans uphold their Southern-rooted traditions, other cultures do too, such as Chinese communities who share a big table dinner known as Nian Ye Fan (年夜饭). During these dinners, they embrace the tradition of eating dumplings, symbolizing wealth and prosperity. Italians too, observe New Year’s Eve through the celebration of La Festa di San Silvestro. This typically starts with the customary dish called cotechino con lenticchie, a stew comprising sausage and lentils. This meal is believed to bring about good luck, with the lentils symbolizing wealth and positive fate.
Across the globe, eating cake on New Year’s is another hailed tradition carrying deep meaning. Various societies have distinct types of New Year’s cakes. For example, in Greece, there’s a tradition of savoring Vasilopita, commonly referred to as king pie or basil pie. This cake is exclusively prepared for New Year’s festivities and consumed on the very first day of the year. The Greek New Year’s cake has a sweet, doughy texture and is garnished with almonds. Conventionally, the cake is baked with a hidden coin or trinket, and the individual who discovers this special piece is believed to receive good fortune throughout the upcoming year.
Black-eyed peas are non-negotiable on New Year’s Day. Many Southerners believe that eating them will lock in good luck for the new year. The peas themselves are a good omen for increasing wealth. They start out small when they are dry and swell as they cook. Yes to swole pockets all 2023! 👏🏾 This dish is typically eaten with rice and cornbread, representing gold, to usher in good luck into the year ahead.
If you’re looking to bring in financial abundance in the new year, look no further than collard greens. They even look like money! Though collards can be traced back to Northern Europe, they became integral in Southern cooking. Cook it slow and low and serve with a hefty helping of (arguably the best part.)
There’s black-eyed peas + rice, and then there’s Hoppin’ John. Although they share similarities, the two are entirely different. Hoppin’ John is a one-pot meal of rice and field peas — a variety of cowpea found in the Lowcountry with Gullah/Geechee origins. It’s a hearty concoction that produces a creamy reddish gravy typically poured over rice.
Since pigs and hogs push things forward with their snouts, eating pork on New Year’s Eve represents progress and focusing forward. Many Southern traditions even prohibit foods that move backward faster than they move forward during New Year, such as crab, crawfish, and shrimp. So feel free to add a pork chop to your greens for extra flavor and luck.
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