Anyone who has been in the south on New Year’s Day knows that just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west there will be pork, collard greens and black-eyed peas on the table come the ﬁrst of the year. Serving anything else is just inviting bad luck. Combine this traditional meal with a huge helping of southern hospitality and you’ve got a Fayetteville tradition — the New Year’s Day Black-eyed Pea Dinner — which takes place the ﬁrst of every year at the Crown from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, then Sheriff Ottis F. Jones and local attorney, Willis Brown, hosted the meal. When Jones died in 1987 the black-eyed pea dinner came to an end as well. Fast forward to the early ‘90s when Register of Deeds Lee Warren took ofﬁ ce. Warren, his dad and his buddy Owen Spears were talking about how they could give back to the community. His dad tossed out the idea of bringing back the black-eyed pea dinner. The next dinner was hosted on New Year’s Day of 1993 and the rest is history.
Sure it’s a long day, but with the help of many friends, partners and volunteers it’s something that Warren looks forward to every year. “It is a time to start the year off right. It’s a terriﬁc opportunity to share with others and one of those things we enjoy doing,” said Warren. “It takes probably 60-70 volunteers. There are a lot of the people that come out and assist us.
“It is really a team effort, with many partners and volunteers involved,” he continued. “Many of them have been doing it for years and they look forward to it as much as we all do. It is a good southern tradition that we love to carry on. My family and I and Ed Grannis our long time district attorney and Billie West the new district attorney put the event on.”
It is not unusual for more than 3,000 people to show up depending on what day of the week the New Year falls on.
“With New Year’s being on Tuesday we’ll have a big crowd,” said Warren. “If it was on a Friday or a Monday a lot of people get that day tied in to a weekend and go out of town. When it falls on Sunday people come after church. When it is midweek not many people are out of town. I’m fairly certain there will be at least 3,000 there.”
The meal is signiﬁ cant in more ways than one. Not only is it a great chance for fellowship, greeting the new year and breaking bread with friends old and new, superstition has it that this is the meal that will determine how 2013 unfolds. Everything on the plate represents something for the new year.
The pork promises progress. Pigs push forward when they forage for food, unlike other foraging animals.
Black-eyed peas were once used as food for livestock. During the Civil War when Sherman’s troops plundered the south they destroyed all the crops except the humble black-eyed pea. That’s what got the Confederates through the winter that year. Because they are small and somewhat round, the legumes have also come to represent coins.
Served with collard greens (or cabbage in some areas), which represents paper money and cornbread, which represents gold, it is deﬁ nitely a good idea to clean your plate so your wallet will be full in 2013.
The event is free and open to the public.
Photo: A typical southern New Year’s Day dinner is filled with symbolism.