A Traditional Southern New Year's Day Dinner

Start the New Year with these lucky southern food traditions

Mustard Greens With Ham
Photo: Diana Rattray

Many cultures and countries have particular "lucky" foods, and the Southern United States is no exception. Greens, pork, and cornbread, as well as black-eyed peas, cowpeas, or beans, are some of the typical symbolic foods served on New Year's Day. When planning your dinner menu, add the Southern foods that some say bring good luck and avoid those that may do just the opposite in the new year.

What to Eat on New Year's Day

According to popular folklore, if these foods are eaten on New Year's Day, you're guaranteed good luck throughout the year:

  • Peas and beans symbolize coins or wealth. Choose traditional black-eyed peas, lentils, or beans to make a dish seasoned with pork, ham, or sausage.
  • Greens resemble money, specifically folding money. Make dishes using green, leafy vegetables to ensure good fortune for the coming year. Southern favorites include boiled cabbage or sauerkraut, collard greens, kale, chard, mustard greens, and turnip greens.
  • Pork is considered a sign of prosperity in some cultures because pigs root forward. This is probably the reason many Southern New Year's Day dishes contain pork or ham.
  • Cornbread might symbolize gold because corn kernels represent coins. Yet, cornbread is also essential with black-eyed peas and greens, so you can triple your luck with these natural complements.
  • In other cultures, fish, grapes, and ring-shaped cakes or doughnuts symbolize luck. Cakes with special treats inside do as well, so something like a surprise loaf cake is perfect.

What Not to Eat on New Year's Day

As much as you might want to go all out with a seafood dinner on this holiday, it may not be the best idea. Some believe that lobster could cause bad luck because it moves in a backward direction, which could mean setbacks in the year ahead. For the same reason, eating chicken could be bad luck. The birds scratch backward, plus they're winged so your luck could fly away. 

New Year's Day Menu Suggestions

This is the perfect New Year's Day dinner menu. It includes skillet cornbread, easily seasoned mustard greens, spicy black-eyed peas (Hoppin' John), hot cooked rice, and a fabulous peach upside-down cake.

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  • Boiled Cabbage With Bacon: This is a flavorful alternative to Southern greens when you simply want a delicious cabbage salad that's easy to make.
  • Pulled Pork: Serve tender shredded pulled pork along with your New Year's Day dinner. There are many recipes to choose from and various ways to cook it.
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