The New Year is an exciting time full of tradition and celebration all around the world. In Fayetteville, one of the most beloved traditions is the annual Black-eyed Pea Dinner. This free meal first began in the 1970’s with Ottis Jones, the Sheriff at the time, and Willis Brown, a lawyer. The men wanted to give back to the community. The tradition took a hiatus in 1987 when Jones died. However, it made a strong comeback in 1994 when Lee Warren, the county Register of Deeds and former State Rep. Owen Spears revived the tradition that they remembered fondly from their childhoods. In fact, this has been a tradition for many in the Fayetteville community. It is common to see familiar faces of families that have been celebrating the New Year this way for decades. The food is delicious and the camaraderie is even better. It happens at the Crown from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This free meal is a popular way to celebrate the New Year with friends and family. Volunteers begin cooking early in the morning to feed an expected crowd of around 3,000 people. The community dinner is only possible because of the community members who come together to support it. Hundreds of volunteers pitch in every year to make this wonderful meal happen.
A central aspect of the annual meal is the menu. It always consists of barbecue pork, collards, corn bread and black-eyed peas. It is a traditional meal of southern comfort food, but these dishes also have superstitious significance for ushering in the New Year. The pork is supposed to represent progress because pigs root forward as they eat. The leafy green collards are supposed to represent paper money and eating them is meant to encourage a year full of prosperity and wealth. Additionally, the color Green is supposed to symbolize hope and growth. On a similar note, the black-eyed peas are supposed to bring prosperity and luck as well because they represent coins. They are also known as a very hearty and drought-resistant crop so they should bring resilience and perseverance into the New Year.
The free meal is open to anyone and everyone who would like to celebrate the New Year with the community. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been coming to the dinner for years or this meal is the first. Everyone is invited to enjoy the traditional southern comfort food and, hopefully, the luck that comes with it. However, the meal this year is specifically dedicated to First Responders. These community heroes constantly sacrifice their own comfort and safety to help others in their most vulnerable moments. First responders include police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians among others. A few extra black-eyed peas and collard greens certainly couldn’t hurt.
The annual Black-eyed Pea New Year’s Dinner takes place on New Year’s Day at the Crown Expo Center. It is located at 1960 Coliseum Dr. Though the preparation will begin early in the morning, the doors will open at 11 a.m. and plates will be served until 2 p.m.