New Year’s Day Traditions


According to tradition, the New Year’s Day meal will bring you fortune in the year to come. Here in Alabama, we usually have greens (turnips or collards), black-eyed peas, hog jowls and cornbread. This has been the traditional meal served by my grandmama all my life. When she became too frail to do the cooking, I began to help, and since her death, I have done much of the cooking but with help from others. This year will be the first time that I am cooking the whole meal for the family and friends. We will probably have between 12-20 people, so it’s a lot of food to cook.


Since our family and friends are split over collards and turnips, I am cooking both, and hopefully they will being us plenty of wealth and prosperity in 2015. The greens are supposed to represent folding money. Collards and turnips are green, so is our folding money. It’s all about wealth, prosperity and good fortune as the New Year begins. Some folks say the more greens you eat on New Year’s Day, the more prosperous you will become during the year ahead.

I put the black-eyed peas in the crockpot last night so they will be ready by lunch time, we all need the good luck they are supposed to bring. If you search the internet, you’ll find various stories as to why eating black-eyed peas is supposed to bring good luck. One of those is going back to Civil War times when the Union troops stripped the countryside of all stored food, crops, livestock and whatever else they could not carry away. Northerners it seems, considered black eye peas, field peas, and field corn to only be good for feeding animals… thus… they didn’t steal it or destroy it. As the story goes, this then was the only food, along with maybe some salt pork, that was available at the time and Southern soldiers lived off it for awhile. It was their good luck to have had it.

We will also have hog jowls, which many of you may say yuck to this tradition, but we get them sliced like thick bacon and deep fry them, and it’s like eating the best bacon you’ve ever had. Pork traditionally brings wisdom in the new year, and around here hog jowls have always been the pork of choice. The important thing is to include pork as the meat of the day as opposed to some other animal meat. Pigs it seems, root or forage in a forward direction. This moving forward is seen as a symbol of moving forward in the New Year. Serving chicken, or a winged animal that flies, would represent your fortune as possibly flying away from you (however, since chickens rarely fly and they are seen as prosperous around here, we eat them anyway).

In addition to the traditional foods, we usually also have chicken and dumplings, which I will be making this year. I am also roasting a chicken. We decided on chicken over a turkey or ham because we didn’t want to make dressing which would be a requirement if we cooked a turkey. Of course to go with the pot likker (or liquor, if you prefer) from the greens and peas, I am making cornbread. It’s the one time of the year that I get cracklin cornbread (Cracklings or cracklin are pieces of either pork or poultry fat trimmings that have been fried until brown and crispy and it makes the most delicious cornbread). I will also make some regular cornbread for those who don’t like cracklin bread. We are also having homemade from scratch macaroni and cheese, no blue box for us.

For dessert, I have made a cranberry cake, and my mother is bringing a chocolate pie. Also a friend of ours is bringing apple pie and a few other desserts that I can’t remember. Of course all of this will be served with some sweet iced tea.

Many would consider this type of meal to be a “poor man’s meal.” It was often thought that if you “Eat poor on New Years, you’ll eat fat the rest of the year.” Whatever your reasons, eating this traditional New Year’s Day meal is a great way to start off any New Year. I’ve been doing so all my life, It’s just the good thoughts behind starting off another year with a hope for prosperity and good fortune. All in all, it will be quite a feast, and I love it. I wish all of you could join us.


Just in case you’d like the traditional foods all in one pot, here’s a recipe from Southern Living Magazine (which I’d substitute the ham for hog jowls).

Hoppin’ John Soup


Yield: Makes 11 cups
Hands-on: 30 Minutes
Total: 2 Hours, 5 Minutes

1/2 (16-oz.) package dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and sorted
2 pounds smoked turkey wings
1/3 cup finely chopped country ham (or hog jowls)
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 celery rib, diced
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 (16-oz.) package fresh collard greens, trimmed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Hot cooked brown rice
Cornbread Croutons
Flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Bring peas, turkey wings, and 6 cups water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer 45 minutes or until peas are tender, skimming any foam from surface. Drain peas, reserving 1 1/4 cups liquid. Remove turkey meat from bones. Chop meat.

2. Sauté ham and next 7 ingredients in hot oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add peas, reserved 1 1/4 cups liquid, turkey meat, collards, hot sauce, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Stir in vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf. Serve over rice with Cornbread Croutons and parsley.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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