Contributed by Michiel Perry of Black Southern Belle
As the New Year approaches, I am reminded of a few Southern traditions and superstitions. When we were young, my mother would remove every Christmas decoration before the New Year as she thought it would bring bad luck. Food was no exception to the superstitions and traditions and what you ate was as important as what you were not to eat! We always had an abundance of fish, black-eyed peas, pork, and collard greens for good luck in the new year.
In some parts of the South, it’s believed you don’t eat anything that moves backward faster than it moves forward like lobsters, crabs, shrimp, and crawfish or anything that can fly such fowls, including turkey or chicken (neither of which fly). The New Year is about focusing on moving forward and that includes they type of foods Southerners consume for the holiday.
In our family, Black-eyed peas were reserved for this time of year, so it was always a treat to indulge in my mother’s recipe made with love, pork, and lots of cooking fats. Collard greens came from the family land that was once a hog and crop farm, now home to my father’s garden where he grows vegetables and the best collard greens, but I am a bit partial. Some believe collard greens offer prosperity and ward off evil spirits when hung in the doorway. We ate pork with our meals on New Year’s Eve (and Day) as it’s said to be good luck because pigs and hogs push things forward with their snouts. For the main dish, we always had a well-seasoned fish. Mullet fish is a Lowcountry favorite, and we would enjoy it as we entered the new year in our home. You can’t forget the cornbread, which is golden and another symbol of wealth.
On New Year’s Eve, our family would head to our local church for late-night church service, known as Watch Night. This service holds special meaning to the African American community as it’s believed our ancestors gathered in churches on January 1st in 1863, awaiting the announcement of the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln.
Since then, Watch Night services, particularly in the South, include fellowship, worship, and music. Attending these is a tradition that I have continued with my own family. Many in the Lowcountry showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Gullah Geechee people during these services.
This year, my family and I will celebrate New Year’s, focusing on our immediate family due to current social gatherings changes. We plan to switch out Christmas decorations with heritage details and heirlooms to enjoy the tree and wreaths a little longer. This year we’re adding Gullah artwork and Indigo to our holiday decor so we can leave it up after the holidays. You can add grandma’s pins, family photos, or other cultural elements to replace traditional Christmas decor in your home. My mother will feel confident in our family’s good luck in the new year with this switch.
We are transforming Lowcountry staples into kid-friendly meals for our New Year’s menu. We still plan to enjoy my parents’ recipes while adding new treats our Lil ones can enjoy. Celebrating the New Year in the kitchen will bring us closer to each other and our family members who can not be with us. We have planned a few new dishes: collard green egg rolls, black-eyed pea nuggets with a peach dipping sauce, and for an easy New Year’s Day meal, collard greens, black-eyed pea, and ham sliders. Make cookies or cupcakes that the family can decorate together. Ringing in the new year calls for cocktails or mocktails for the adults or even a nice hot Southern apple cider.
We plan to ring in the New Year at home, making memories with our children while looking forward to a new beginning. Our family resolution is to continue celebrating and sharing our heritage and to give back to those in need in our local community. We may be toasting a little differently this season, but with no less fanfare and plenty of Lowcountry food for good luck.