When I considered edible ways to celebrate the New Year before we had kids, I pictured champagne, lobster, and caviar on New Year’s Eve, and maybe a Bloody Mary and a Greek omelet for brunch around noon the next day.

But that was back before you had to take out a second mortgage and robo-call every teen in the school district to secure a babysitter on New Year’s Eve, and before our dear children thought 7 a.m. was sleeping in on January 1st.

In recent years, New Years celebrations have become family affairs. We get together with friends and their children to enjoy a chaotic, family-friendly celebration of the fact that we actually remembered to buy a new calendar to keep track of our busy family schedules before January arrived.

While we may pop the cork out of a token bottle of champagne around midnight, that sweet bubbly nectar no longer defines our celebrations (at least, not as much as juice boxes and strong coffee to stay awake until the ball drops).

I recently started searching for information about what fellow Americans consider essential or traditional New Years foods, and I was surprised to learn that black-eyed peas top the list, especially of those whose families originally hail from the South.  (Some people even hide a coin in the stew to symbolize prosperity, but I wouldn’t recommend that!).  My friend Marilyn Miller McSpadden of Waxahachie, Texas, explained the tradition to me: She said it dates back to the Civil War, when the fields of humble black-eyed peas were the only crop to survive pillaging by Sherman’s troops.  The peas became a vital source of nutrients for the surviving Confederates, and have henceforth come to symbolize good fortune. (For more, see Black-Eyed Peas, a Southern Tradition for Luck and Prosperity in the New Year on About.com.)

Our friend, Sara Emley, who lives in Durham, North Carolina, created this black-eyed pea gumbo (a Southern spicy stew) for her family and friends to enjoy on January 1st. We like to serve it with grapes, which are linked to the New Year in Spain and Peru (they eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve for good luck every month of the year).

What are your family’s New Years food traditions? Please share in the comments below.

You Might Also Like

  • Alice

    This looks fabulous! Had no idea that black eyed peas were considered a New Year’s day food.

    • G. Patey

      Gumbo might as well be puree with alot of spices. I start out every year thinking I am going to eat a meal of Bedford Basin lobster and an Albertan steak. I end up eating a shrimp ring with sauce and a hamburger. But I keep trying. Give me allowance, I saw the words black-eyed peas and corn bread and it reminded me of the time I spent in Georgia.

    • kordeelia

      If you eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, you won’t go hungry that year. If you eat collards you will always have some money in your pocket! alas, if was only that easy….

  • Allysson

    I’ve been serving fondue (cheese for the entree, followed by chocolate for dessert) for the last few years. My kids decided it is a tradition. It worked well for a stay-at-home evening as it is “slow food” and everyone can sit around the table for a long time while waiting for midnight.

  • Ruth Ann Coleman

    Black peas by themselves, usually with some ham to add flavor, have long been a New Years dish. Also, Hoppin’ John (rice and peas).

  • Kate

    Being from the south we have Hoppin’ John too.

  • Renee

    Growing up in Virginia, I was raised on black-eyed peas and ham for New Year’s. After I got married (to a Texan), we added cornbread to the meal as well.

    I think I’m going to try to make this gumbo this year… looks delish :)

  • Phalbe Henriksen

    Add sliced carrots, which represent gold coins.

  • Anne Tanner

    I don’t know if it’s a Midwest custom, but my Minnesota-bred mother always used to make oyster stew for New Year’s Day.

  • Emmala

    Hopping John, Hog Jowls (I never eat those, it is like really salty and fatty bacon) and any leafy green (like turnips, collards, or cabbage) are very strong southern traditions. Also, to never wash clothes on New Years day (that person won’t live through that year). There is a saying “whatever you do on New Years day, you will do all year long”.

  • Emmala

    Left over Hoppin’ John is called Skippin’ Jenny.

  • Noanie

    I think I’ll try this gumbo recipe, only light on the chili and cumin. Not a fan of spicy foods but sounds delicious. Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s hope 2012 is a better year for all, especially those who have been hit hardest by the economy.