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 they thought would improve their good fortune.
But my Scots-Irish grandmother put less emphasis on the food eaten, then 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 cold or hungry for any length of time, so I guess it must have worked.
After I moved to Missouri, my neighbor from Arkansas insisted we eat black-eyed peas each New Years’ Eve. The kids resisted eating the tasteless, gray legume, despite the warnings. 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 anyway they can, here are some time-honored food choices you might want to consider:
Black-eyed Peas: 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 you belt just to be on the safe side.
Grapes: My Columbian born son-in-law, swears by this one: eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each stroke of the clock. The custom 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.
Pork: Pigs historically symbolize progress, because they root the ground, pushing forward as they go. Avoid lobster, that moves backwards and chickens, that scratch the ground backwards, or any winged bird, that could
fowl foul up your luck.
Cooked Greens: 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 good 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 good fortune.
Fish: Fish is a New Year’s choice in many countries, because the scales are shaped like coins and supposedly make for good fortune. (On the other hand, the scales in your bathroom are not designed to make you feel good about yourself or the upcoming year.)
Cake: Be careful to make the cake round; oblong or square doesn’t work. The round shape, again, symbolizes coins that will come your way.
If you eat from this listing of approved foods, you can have a rather sumptuous New Year’s meal and stay within the guidelines for a lucky twelve months. I’m going for the grapes this year: 12 of them, served on a skewer.