I was curious to where the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Years came from so I did a little reading. It seems there are many different reasons and traditions, but some that I found most interesting were:
In September 1862 a proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln, it had to do with the Emancipation Proclamation. On the first day of January 1863 all slaves in Confederate states were considered free. One story goes that people who were slaves were waiting for the Emancipation Proclamation to go into effect, and on January 1 they had a celebration with what they had (black-eyed peas and collard greens being among those things). I found it quite interesting that the Emancipation Proclamation actually freed very few people. Slavery was actually ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment on December 18, 1865. (Nothing like starting the New Year with a little history lesson!)
Apparently black-eyed peas were originally planted for livestock. As Sherman’s troops made their way through the South during the Civil War most crops were either destroyed or stolen. Black-eyed peas were left and therefore became an important food source for the Confederate army.
It is also thought to be good luck to eat black-eyed peas on New Years. The collard greens represent paper money and the peas represent coins. Cornbread, which is sometimes served with black-eyed peas, represents gold.