Neely-Dorsey: The Stories Behind Southern New Year Traditions

a a a a blog greens

Have you ever wondered about that traditional Southern menu for New Year’s Day?

According to old Southern stories,it dates back to the Civil War when Union troops pillaged the land, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and greens as animal fodder.

In the North, the black-eyed peas were known as “cowpeas” or “field peas.” Cattle ate cowpeas, and humans ate only English peas. Since the North believed that only cattle ate black-eyed peas, they saw no need to destroy this crop. They had already either taken or eaten all of the cattle.

a a a a blog black eye peas

First planted as food for livestock and later a food staple for slaves in the South, the black-eyed pea fields were ignored as Sherman’s troops destroyed or stole other crops, thereby making the black-eyed pea an important food source for surviving Confederates.

As one of the few food sources left to sustain the people and the Southern soldiers, those black-eyed peas came to represent good fortune.

Today, the tradition of eating black-eyed peas for the New Year has many variations and embellishments. Served with greens, the peas represent coins and the greens represent paper money. In some areas cabbage is used in place of the greens.

Other traditions include:

Cornbread, often served with black-eyed peas and greens, representing gold.

-For the best chance of luck every day in the year ahead, one must eat at least 365 black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

Black-eyed peas eaten with stewed tomatoes represent wealth and health.

-Adding a shiny penny or dime to the pot just before serving is another tradition for some southerners. When served, the person whose bowl contains the penny or dime receives the best luck for the New Year, unless, of course, the recipient swallows the coin.

Greens and black-eyed peas remain favorites in the southern diet, as reflected in the poem, Soul Food Restaurant, from my book, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia -a Life In Poems.

a a a a blog soul food

Also, some form of pork is to be included: pork roast, ham hocks, hog jowls and so on. Many simply just add fatback in the greens. The pork represents health and wealth and continued prosperity.

If a family had a hog, that hog (usually killed, dressed and stored between Thanksgiving and Christmas) could provide meat for a family for much of the entire upcoming year. Some say that the pork also represents progress since pigs and hogs generally are not able to look backward without completely turning around.

a a a a blog hogkilling

Whatever the reason for the tradition, we Southerners stick religiously to it. And, it’s DELICIOUS!

patricia dorsey

Patricia Neely-Dorsey is the author of two books of poetry, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life In Poems and My Magnolia Memories and Musings-In Poems. Through her poems, the author hopes to protect, preserve and promote the rich cultural history and heritage of her state and region along with providing more positive images than all of the negative images usually portrayed. Patricia lives in Tupelo with her husband James, son Henry and Miniature Schnauzer, Happy. The author has been named a Goodwill Ambassador for the state by Governor Phil Bryant. Her slogan is “Always, Always Celebrating the South and Promoting a Positive Mississippi ” Her website is and her email is


  1. We have blackeyed peas with some part of a smoked ham – store-bought these days.and dried blackeyed peas, not canned (ugh! Yankee food!) A Southern buttermilk cornbread recipe – one plain flour to 3 yellow corn meal, baking soda,baking powder, salt, eggs, oil, , and buttermilk – again, storebought – My mom used mayonaise rather than oil, and had most of the secrets in her mind. Baked in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and I like to tale some of the batter and male a thin round loaf on a grill – golden crusts ready for butter. Cabbage and cornbread -we have had difficulty finding any greens free of grit. Hungry just thinking about it!