Do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? If you’re from the South, the answer is most likely, yes. However, if you live in other parts of the country, you may not be as likely to do so. Regardless, many people know that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is good luck. But when and where did this tradition begin?
There are many myths about eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. It’s a tradition that can be traced back at least to the 1800s in America. However, the folklore of black-eyed peas being a source of good luck originates long before this time. The belief that black-eyed peas are a source of good luck originates from West Africa.
Black-eyed peas, which are really beans, are native to West Africa. For centuries, people in West Africa have celebrated auspicious days by preparing their favorite meals. Many of these dishes include black-eyed peas because West Africans believe that the peas are a symbol of good luck. Even today, the peas are part of meals served during special occasions, such as the birth of a child.
The Mixing of West Africa And European Traditions
When Africans were enslaved and brought to America via the horrific Middle Passage, black-eyed peas were part of the diet aboard the slave ships. Then, as Africans were enslaved throughout America, they planted and grew black-eyed peas in their gardens. A bean native to West Africa became part of the African American diet. Eventually, the pea even became part of the diet of the enslavers.
According to American culinary historian Adrian Miller, as the cultures began to mix, the black-eyed peas kept their lucky status. People of Western European descent believed that the peas “could be seen as a fertility symbol” because of how they grew as they cooked. Plus, people of European descent carried around items with “eyes” to ward off the evil eye. This was something that black-eyed peas are believed to do in West African tradition.
Why Do We Eat Black-Eyed Peas On New Year’s Day?
The simple answer is that black-eyed peas symbolize good luck. The belief comes from many traditions. No one knows for sure why people began eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. However, there are a few theories.
For centuries, Europeans have believed that what happens on the first day of the year will have year-long consequences. Plus, many cultures began to mix in America during the 1800s. There are stories of how the tradition began after the Civil War. Other legends say that eating the peas on New Year’s Day began when Sephardic Jews came to the South and brought their custom of eating black-eyed peas for good luck on Rosh Hashanah, their New Year’s Day.
Regardless of how the tradition came to be, many people will continue eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Arkansas local Terry Walker told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette why their family still follows the tradition: “It’s a long-running family tradition that goes back to my great-grandmother Effie in 1891. If something is passed down in your family, it is a treasure. If you’ve got recipes from your grandparents, aunts and uncles that you love, you better make sure to get them because they are lost when [your relatives] draw their last breath.”