While I’m not very superstitious, I am a sucker for traditions, so it’s no surprise that I am sure to eat a traditional New Year’s Day meal on the first of the year— pork, black-eyed peas, cabbage and cornbread. Below I’ll tell you what these foods symbolize for the new year ahead, as well as which foods are considered unlucky on New Year’s Day.
Traditionally, grapes are often a New Years food item as well— more on that one later in the post. We grew up putting a German spin on cabbage by always eating sauerkraut instead of fresh cabbage greens, but, hey, pickled fermented cabbage is still cabbage!
And as for grapes, I opt for champagne, sparkling wine (or sparkling grape juice for a kid-friendly version). Not really the tradition (see below), but that was never one of my own.
My New Year’s Day Meal is a pretty Southern and super easy— comprised of pork tenderloin, sauerkraut, black-eyed peas, and sparkling wine (because you can’t call it what’s in your glass champagne unless it is derived from Champagne, France). There’s almost always cornbread, too, which some also consider a traditional part of a Southern New Year’s Day meal.
What Do The New Year’s Foods Symbolize?
Pork - Progress & Prosperity. Because pigs root for food in a forward manner, they symbolize progress.
Black-Eyed Peas - Coins (or on a larger scale, wealth). You can eat other similar legumes like cow peas or field peas, instead, but (to me) it doesn’t feel right to swap things out since black-eyed peas are what my momma made.
Cabbage - Paper Currency (wealth, again). Think leafy green, think dollar bills, y’all. Money is a recurring symbol on the New Year’s Day plate, and I’m not one to leave their represented food items off my plate, and while sauerkraut certainly isn’t really green, it’s cabbage none-the-less.
Cornbread - Gold (hello, again, wealth!). Cornbread in all its golden glory just goes super well with all the other menu items. I feel like cornbread was included as a New Year’s Day traditional food afterthought by someone. Like, cornbread just fits the plate (and it’s bread), so enough people added it anyway. They needed to find a symbol for it, and two wealth symbols just weren’t enough. Lo and behold, golden cornbread symbolizes gold, but don’t quote me on this origin story.
Grapes - Good Luck/Good Fortune. Not a part of my meal traditionally, unless it is in drink form, but this post is about traditional New Year’s Day foods, and grapes are a common traditional food. On NYE, you’re to eat one grape at each hour starting at noon to countdown each hour until midnight. At the strike of 12, you’ll have eaten 12 grapes, each one representing a month of the year.
New Year’s Day Meal Ideas
So while these items make my New Year’s Day menu in one way or another, you can put your own take on these traditional New Year’s Day foods— think kimchi and pork belly, or bacon and sautéed cabbage greens.
I typically opt for a pretty easy route and put a pork tenderloin in a crock-pot with some fresh cracked black pepper and dried shallots. There’s no need for salt, because I add the sauerkraut into the crock-pot an hour before the tenderloin is ready. Another time saver— I used canned black-eyed peas and jazz them up on the stove with some butter, thinly chopped onion, and black pepper (I really like pepper). As learned from my mom, I always double the Jiffy Corn Muffin mix and its ingredients (making it as a Johnny cake, not muffins), and add a splash of beer (if someone’s got one open). It is the fluffiest cornbread ever, and although the recipe is doubled you only need to add an extra 5 minutes to the baking time.
Unlucky Foods: What Not To Eat On New Year’s Day
There are traditionally unlucky New Year’s Day foods, many of which symbolize going backwards.
Chicken - Avoid eating chicken on New Year’s Day. Because chickens scratch backwards, they symbolize living in the past or going backwards.
Winged Fowl - On a similar note, wings are said to symbolize wealth flying away, so doubly avoid chicken wings or you’l have a real party foul on New Year’s Day (heh)! Also keep duck, turkey, quail, goose, pheasant and other fowl off your plate.
Lobster & Crawfish - These crustaceans swim backwards, and as such, symbolize setbacks in the new year.
Do you have any New Year's Day meal traditions? If so, what does your menu consist of?