When you turn the leaf on a new year, it’s best not to leave anything to chance. Our forbearers started each year by eating certain foods that they thought would bring good fortune. The New Year’s fare depended on tradition, heritage, and geography.
Once Upon a Time
But my Scots-Irish grandmother put less emphasis on the food eaten, than who was the first to come to the door on New Year’s Day: a tall, dark-haired man brought luck to the household, but a light-haired woman did not.
She said if a guest brought a lump of coal, it meant the family would always be warm; a gift of food meant the household would not go hungry. She didn’t recall being either cold or hungry for any length of time, so I guess it must have worked.
An Ozark New Year’s
After moving to Missouri, a neighbor saw to it that our family ate the requisite number of black-eyed peas to assure good fortune. At least eight peas were needed. Or was it 16 or 365? I don’t recall.
The kids resisted eating the tasteless, gray legume, despite the warnings. But being young, they were willing to take the risk of forgoing the tradition, but the rest of us dutifully ate our peas.
For those wanting to get a leg up on the New Year any way they can, here are some time-honored food choices to consider:
Legend says the humble legume saved Vicksburg from starvation when they were under attack during the Civil War.
If you feel like you might “come under attack” this next year, get a few black-eyed peas under your belt just to be on the safe side.
Pigs historically symbolize progress, because they root the ground, pushing forward as they go. Avoid lobsters, that move backwards and chickens, that scratch the ground backwards, or any winged bird, that could “fowl” up your luck.
This includes cabbage, kale, collards, chard, mustard, and turnip greens. The large green leaves symbolize folding money. The more greens you eat, the greater your monetary fortune will be.
Southerners combine the greens, pork, and black-eyed peas into a dish called Hoppin’ John and, thereby, get a triple whammy of luck.
Fish is a New Year’s choice in many countries, because the scales are shaped like coins and supposedly make for good times. (On the other hand, the scales in your bathroom are not designed to make you feel good about yourself or the upcoming year.)
My Columbian born son-in-law, swears by this one: eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each stroke of the clock. The idea originated in Spain more than a hundred years ago to alleviate a grape surplus and the custom spread to other Spanish-speaking countries.
Beware: If one of the 12 grapes is sour, that means the corresponding month will also be unpleasant.
Hmm. . . I wonder if a pizza topped with ham and collard greens would work? Or maybe fish tacos with a side of grapes. It’s worth a try.