Ringing in the new year is an incredibly symbolic celebration. It is a time of reflection on the past year and hope for the coming one. It is this intense hope for the future that inspires the majority of the symbolism associated with the New Years In the South, a lot of the symbolism revolves around the New Year’s Day dinner, or as the tradition goes in Cumberland County the New Year’s Black-eyedPea Dinner, which is hosted by Lee Warren, Ed Branis and Billie West.
The Black-eyed Pea Dinner is a long-held tradition in the area that brings the community together for a great meal and friendship.
“This is our 21st annual event. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s the sheriff at the time, Ottis Jones, and his friend, a local attorney named Willis Brown, both had New Year’s Day Black-eyed Pea Dinners,” explained Lee Warren, the Cumberland County Registrar o Deeds. “They got together and talked about it and decided to join together and had the event at the coliseum.
“I remember attending these dinners in the ‘70s. Otis Jones died in 1987 or 1988 and when he died, the event died with him. In 1993, I was talking with my father and my friend, Owen Spears, who was a member of the North Carolina General Assembly, and my dad, said, ‘Why don’t you guys revive the Black-eyed Pea Dinner?’“ recalled Warren. “We thought it was a good idea, so we revived it for the first time in 1993. In 1996, Owen had a career change and Ed Grannis, the district attorney, came on. Ed retired three years ago and Billie West is the new district attorney. Now, all three of us put on the event.”
One can expect very traditional southern fair at the New Year’s Day Black-eyed Pea Dinner. “Black-eyedpeas, collard greens, candied yams and barbeque. It is traditional southern New Year’s day fare,” said Warren.
Traditionally, the Black-eyed peas represent coin money and collard greens represent paper money. Eating them expresses a wish for prosperity in the coming year. The meal is prepared by professionals each year.
The Black-eyed Pea Dinner is an extremely popular event. Attendance is usually about 3,000 people. This year, even more people are expected to attend. It can be difficult to plan for a variance of around 200 - 300 people, but Warren tirelessly works each year to deliver an incredible event. The most rewarding aspect for him is, “renewing old friendships and seeing people year after year.”
“Many people come every year. It has become a good tradition for Cumberland County, and I think people look forward to it.,” he said.
The dinner is completely free to the public. It takes place at the Crown Coliseum Expo Building. The Expo Building is located at 1960 Coliseum Dr. The dinner is on New Years Day from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Bring your friends and family out and spend the first day of the new year with your neighbors.
Photo: The Black-eyed Pea Dinner feeds about 3,000 each year.