If you are like most families in the south you are accustomed to the annual tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Thought to bring good luck, the origin of the practice dates way back. Some historians trace the practice back to its possible Jewish roots. A portion of the Babylonian Talmud records a Jewish tradition of eating the peas as a part of the Jewish New Year celebration known as Rosh Hashanah. Tradition suggests that Sephardic Jews arrived in Georgia in the 1730s bringing the tradition with them and spreading it in the southern states.
Other historians cite that the crop, which is domesticated in Africa, arrived in the states on slave ships. Black-eyed peas were a staple in the diets of enslaved people across the south. Following the Civil War, many of the other crops were destroyed but the black-eyed peas survived and soon all Southerners began eating them. Black-eyed peas became popular because they were easy to grow and are filled with nutrients. They were considered a blessing in the southern region. It is widely accepted that the Black-eyed pea became the lucky legume it is because it was eaten by newly freed people celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation which was effective on January 1, 1863.
While I was reading up on the folklore surrounding the tradition my thoughts were drawn to the symbolism of the black-eyed pea. When cooked the black eyed pea expands and this is intended to symbolize the expansion of wealth. Commiting to acquire more wealth is a common resolution made every year. When I consider the richness of this metaphor, I imagine a world that seeks to think beyond material possessions. I wonder how different the world would look if we resolved to increase more kindness in the coming year. Imagine a world where we were more focused on the needs of others than the wants of ourselves?
The black eyed pea also serves as a symbol of humility. Humility is what we need more than anything else. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less,” said C.S. Lewis. What would the new year look like if we all resolved to embrace the symbol of humility. The societal problems that have plagued us could be solved if we would embrace and extend a spirit of humility to others. We need to learn to see the world through the eyes of others.
My annual consumption is not likely to take on much of a new meaning but the thought behind resolutions have certainly been challenged. One of my great friends says every year that his new year’s resolution is to not make any resolutions. This approach to resolutions ensures that you will never fail. Resolutions often last as long as the bowl of peas and ham hocks that signify the new year in the south. As the calendar flips in just a few days, perhaps the best resolution is to try each day to be a better version of ourselves. Please eat your black-eyed peas, we need the good luck!
Wishing you all a Blessed and Happy New Year!