There are many traditions that are held dear in the celebration of the new year, but none is as ingrained in the Southern psyche as the traditional meal of black-eyed peas, collards and pork. For many, it’s a tradition that has been handed down for generations. For J. Lee Warren, the Cumberland County Register of Deeds, and Ed Grannis, the district attorney, it’s a tradition worth savoring.
    {mosimage}On Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009, the duo will host the 16th annual Black-Eyed Pea dinner at the Crown Expo Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And yes, before you ask, there will be plenty of black-eyed peas, collards, barbecue and candied yams, all designed to bring a prosperous 2009 to the residents of Cumberland County.
    “It is not a political event,” said Warren, who actually organized the event 16 years ago with Owen Spears of the N.C. House of Representatives. “Both Ed and I agree that too many times politicians are only seen when they are running for office. We don’t want to be associated with that idea — so we host this annual dinner to let folks know we care about them and what they have to say.”
    The dinner, which cannot be put on without the help of a lot of volunteers, brings the community together for an afternoon of fellowship and fun. “A lot of people come year after year,” said Warren. “When you’re standing there in line talking to people and shaking hands, you realize that for many of those people, this is the only hot meal they are going to get that day. So it makes it very important to us.”
    Warren said in addition to the great food, there will be great gospel music and conversation. Several thousand people attend each year, with the numbers going up significantly when New Years falls during the middle of the week or on Sunday. “If New Years is on a weekend, attendance drops a little because people go out of town,” said Warren. “That isn’t the case when it’s in the middle of the week or on Sundays.”
    While Warren can’t really give you the origins of the traditional foods, he is quick to tell you the origin of the dinner. “Sheriff Otis Jones and Willis Brown, a local attorney, held the dinner for years and years at the coliseum,” he explained. “After the sheriff died, the event stopped as well. When I was first elected in 1992, I was sitting in my dad’s office with Owen talking about the fact that we wanted to do something with the community. My dad said, ‘Boys, the black-eyed pea dinner would be a good event,’ and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
    After Spears dropped out of the political arena, Warren asked Grannis to join him, and for the past 13 years they’ve been bringing in the new year in style. The event is free and open to the public — no matter what your political leanings may be.
    As to the reason behind the traditional foods, Snopes.com explains it this way: The eating of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day will attract both good luck and financial prosperity. While collards and pork are added to the mix, the peas seem to be the key. That’s not to knock the pork. Pork is considered lucky because “poultry scratches forward, a cow stands still, but a pig roots forward, ergo those who dine upon pork will be moving forward in the new year. Conversely, the eating of chicken or turkey on New Year’s results in poverty as fowl scratch in the dirt for their dinner.

Contact Janice Burton at editor@upandcomingweekly.com

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