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Pookline

EDIBLE BEAN CEREMONIES
OF THE NEW YEAR

(and FIRST FOOTING)

Discussion of the Southern U.S. custom of eating black-eyed peas (Vigna spp.) on New Year's Day runs regularly in alt.lucky.w. The bean dish, sometimes called Hoppin' John -- and sometimes made with other edible beans (Phaseolus spp.) -- is in the United States tangentially associated with the old Scottish and British custom of First Footing. Here is the text of the collected posts on New Year's Beans and First Footing, plus a bonus on the New Year's luckiness of red beans (Phaseolus spp.) in Japan.


catherine yronwode wrote:

I was once married to a man from Alabama and i seem to recall that he told me the first meal of the New Year should be black-eyed peas, for good luck in the following year...Can anyone refresh my memory?


H. Thornton wrote:

Yes, indeed, black-eyed peas. For prosperity, specifically, at least here in West Texas.


Jim Eikner wrote:

Indeed, it seems to be a wide-spread custom in Texas. Yesterday we cooked a pot of peas most of the day using the bone from a Christmas ham. At the stroke of midnight, the entire family toasted each other with champagne and consumed a bowl of black-eyed peas. For maximum good luck in the new year, the first thing you eat on New Year's Day *must* be the peas. "Texas Caviar," a spicy relish made from pickled black-eyes, is served by many clubs as part of the annual festivities.

The custom must have been around for a while. My family observed it when I was a child, and I'm forty-something now. Neither of my parents was originally from Texas, but they were familiar with the custom before they moved here from the Deep South. My mom, from Georgia, also insisted on making rutabaga pot licker on New Year's, for the same reason.


Fred Burke wrote:

Absolutely! The luck of black-eyed peas is definitely alive and well in Texas as a New Year's tradition. I also recall reading, in a long ago newspaper somewhere, that the tradition was started by a grocer with a large stock of black-eyed peas. Or a canner. Or a Black-Eyed Pea Association. Or something like that.

Today I will make my annual pilgrimmage to the grocery to try to find this Texas staple (which is displayed by the check-out line and at the end of rows in many Austin stores for the holiday, just like cranberry sauce and yams at Thanksgiving).


Susan Profit wrote (and i have edited this a bit):

Some folks in the South open every door and window at the stroke of midnight to let out any residual bad luck. They make a loud ruckus banging on pots and pans, setting off fireworks and take part in other noisy activities to chase it far away.

Some folks still take part in the Scots custom from Hogmany of first footing -- the first person to set foot over your threshold on the New Year sets the luck for the year. Good looking men and women, children with birthdays on the day itself were among others considered to be good luck, and folks that fit the local criteria (new brides, new mothers, the local preacher, or lacking anoyone else, someone who was healthy) would go from house to house treated to drink and good food while they were invited to be the first over the threshold. (Why leave anything as important as luck to chance, eh?)

In some parts, folks go back inside and for luck they chow down on a rich bean soup called Hoppin' John, made of black-eyed peas simmered with spicy sausages and tomato sauce. Recipes vary, (variations often determined by what was on hand) but this one is from my mother, who is from Missouri:

1 cup (250 mg) dried black-eyed peas, chick peas, or white 'Navy' beans
4 cups (1 liter) of boiling water
3 medium onions diced coarsely
1/2 pound (225 gms) each salt pork and spicy sausage, sliced into thumbnail sized cubes
1 cup (250mg) mixed rice and barley
Salt, pepper and hot cayenne sauce to taste
Optional: 1/2 cup (125 ml) molasses and 1 cup (250 ml) stewed tomatoes

Pour boiling water over the peas, let sit for 1 hour. Place on the stove on low heat or in the crock-pot/slow-cooker. Throw in onions, meat, rice/barley, tomatoes and molasses. Simmer until the beans have gone so soft they are falling apart, usually around 18-24 hours. Add hot sauce, salt, and pepper in the last half hour before serving.

Serve -- immediately after every window and door in the place is opened (to let out any left-over bad luck) and a particularly "lucky" person walks over the threshold to set tone of the luck for the New Year -- with cornbread, honey, and wishes for each person's New Year luck.


Jeter wrote:

In my family, no woman was allowed to enter our home on New Year's Day until a strange man had crossed the threshhold first. It was considered back luck to have a woman come, so much so, that one year I was not allowed to come home until the 2nd of January. I always thought my Dad didn't want company on New Year's. I've since heard other variations but I always thought it was an African-American custom.


Shez, the "Old Craft" Lady wrote (and i have edited this slightly):

In my country [Great Britain], it's called first footing. Dead coals are brought to the home on New Year's Eve by the first foot, who in tradition is supposed to be a tall dark man. He is the first to step through the door at midnight on New Year's Eve, to bring luck to the house for the following year. The coal is kept by the woman of the house through the year. and burned on the fire the next New Year's Eve. The first foot gets a drink, a kiss, and food -- not a bad return on a piece of coal.

My family's first foot was always the local policeman. He first footed for most of our street, and by the time he got to ours, he was preety merry.

In different parts of the country different traditions arose on first footing, but coal always came into it somewhere. as did salt, and an awful lot of booze.

Scotland and the North East of England are the only places now where you can see a traditional first foot ceromony. That's if you're still sober enough to see.


Carlos "Froggy" May wrote:

Here in New Orleans my friends and I always have a get together on New Years day with black-eyed peas, rice, and cabbage. They symbolize something like luck, friends, and money I think, but today while partaking in the above traditional feast, a friend told me a different variation on the above. She said she'd always heard that the cabbage stood for paper money, and the black-eyed peas for small change.


Georgia wrote

I am stationed in the Norfolk, Virginia, area and had never heard any of these superstitions until i got married. Pretty much the same as Carlos wrote, except my sister-in-law said it was collard greens, not cabbage, to represent money.


Leigh R Hidell wrote:

I've lived all over the South, & it's black-eyed peas all over, in the mountains and in deep South Louisiana also. "Rice for riches and peas for peace" is a saying I've heard, but these peas were still the black-eyed peas. Cabbage was also supposed to bring money.


Phil wrote:

I'm from western North Carolina and we always had black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. All I remember about the symbolism is the obvious: greens for wealth.


Jennifer B. Jakiel wrote:

Here in the Deep South of middle Georgia, I was taught that the beans stood for pennies, the greens for dollars, and the cornbread for gold.


Kevin Erskine wrote:

Here in Richmond, Virginia, they eat black-eyed peas and stewed tomatoes. For wealth and health, I hear.


And that ends (for now) the contributions from readers. Leaving behind the subject of black-eyed peas and moving along to BEANS for the New Year -- i have learned that among the peasants and rural people of Japan (Shintoists and Shinto-influenced Buddhists), it is the custom for the family to go to the local shrine on New Year's Day, where the priest throws uncooked red beans (Phaseolus spp.) on all the congregation, like rice at a wedding.

My Japanese informant Miyako Graham, who was raised in a farming community in Japan, acted the ceremony out for me. Here's what she said, "People clap hands [claps hands twice, sharply] and bow [bows from the waist, hands pressed together] and then -- pow! pow! pow! -- the priest throws beans on them [laughs and stomps from one foot to another]. It's supposed to be lucky."

There are other Japanese charms to ensure luck for the New Year, such as the omomori amulet -- but that is a topic for another Lucky W page to come...

If lucky beans are what you are interested in, see the red beans index for pointers to the many illustrated pages on the lucky qualities of numerous species of inedible, psychedelic, intoxicant, and lethally toxic legumes.

If New Year's customs are your interest, the only other page currently online on that topic is the illustrated chimney sweeps page.

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