There’s an old saying that goes something like, “Eat poor on New Year’s and eat fat the rest of the year.” Eating black-eyed peas and collard greens – simple, humble food – before the coming of a new year is supposed to bring good luck, in other words. Some might be familiar here in the South with this dish being called “Hoppin’ John.” The peas symbolize coins, and the greens represent the color of money.
It’s superstition. It’s tradition. It’s part and parcel of living in the South. Fayetteville is no exception. In fact, this year will mark the 24th annual New Year’s Black-Eyed Pea Dinner at the Crown Expo Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Along with the traditional fare of blackeyed peas and greens, the meal boasts other Southern comforts such as sweet potatoes, cornbread and pork on the barbecue. The evening will feature gospel music as well.
According to J. Lee Warren Jr., register of deeds for Cumberland County and organizer of the event, the dinner actually originated in the 1970s with Willis Brown and Otis Jones. Warren, along with Owen Spears, Ed Grannis and Billy West, eventually took up the mantle of putting on this community affair once again for Cumberland County in the early 1990s.
“It’s been a tradition in our community for 45 years or so. We didn’t want to be the kinds of elected officials that you only heard from every four years when they were running for re-election,” said Warren. “We wanted to be different. We wanted people to be able to hear from us.”
In the past, various government officials have attended the dinner. According to Warren, the governor and other congressional representatives are invited this year.
Warren said, “It’s not a partisan thing. It’s not a political event. There will be political people there. But it doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat or a Libertarian. It doesn’t matter what you are.”
More than anything, the dinner is a chance for the community to participate in something close-knit and homegrown in Fayetteville.
“We’ll have people that tell us, ‘I’ve never been to this before,’ or, ‘I’ve always heard about it and haven’t had the opportunity to come,’” said Warren. “So there will be some people there that it’s their first time attending. Or this will be the 24th time they have come. We really look forward to this every year. It’s just a good way to begin the new year.”