Happy New Year!
As 2018 became reality, many of you ushered in the new year over a meal of black eyed peas and cabbage. It’s a Southern culinary tradition that many people observe. I’m going to step out on a limb and say that most of you don’t know why the tradition began.
Treason the reason for the season?
During Sherman’s March, as the Union Army commenced to carry out his strategy of destruction, the crops and livestock that wasn’t stolen was burned and killed. This ‘military’ strategy was meant to break the will of the Southern people. The General knew that this was not merely a war of policy but an annihilation of a culture.
This war differs from other wars, in this particular. We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war. W T Sherman
Overlooked by Union soldiers as they raped, stole, and pillaged, were what they thought were field peas-black eyed peas. Furthermore, fatback or salt-pork was considered trash by the Union boys so they left it too. Unbeknownst to them, these foods were Southern staples, fundamental ingredients of Southern life.
Now collards, cabbage, and turnip greens are common winter culinary in the South. Most of the time they’re cooked with salt-pork for flavor. That’s what poor Southern women did. Many of them had lost their husbands and sons so they made do. Poor Southerners, black and white, made do and persevered. They gathered those black eyed peas, leftover greens, added fatback and survived.
Reconstruction came to the South with carpetbaggers and military governments. The lean times were intentionally extended by the Republicans in DC. Lincoln had wanted reconciliation but he was gone and the GOP wanted restitution. Half a million whites and a million blacks had died at the hands of the Federals. Their homeland was destroyed, and now they were politically persecuted. The ‘fateful lightning’ had been loosed and ‘the vintage of the grapes of wrath was trampled’!
Do you remember?
When your Grandmother insisted you participate in this cultural communion, did she tell you that story? Or, was she merely following the ancestral command of her grandmother? No matter, she was passing to you a heritage through communion.
If there’s anything people in the South understand that many people in the other States do not, it’s communion. I don’t necessarily mean Eucharist, but I ain’t excluding it.
The problem with Yankees is that they don’t know what to do after supper. They don’t know how to sit a spell and tell stories.-Paul Hemphill
In the South we value food in a way other folk have difficulty understanding. We’ve made do and it tastes great. BBQ is one of our many gifts to the world and it comes from Southerners making do.
Ridgewood BBQ is a gift to the world
The same goes for community. There’s something about eating with people that’s special. It breeds friendships. It encourages conversation. When Southerners eat together, the young learn virtue from the old and the elderly learn to love the new.
The table is more than a place setting in the South. It’s a place of story telling and relationships. It’s a place of remembrance.
You see, the communion of black eyed peas and cabbage flies in the face of those who dishonor our ancestors physical memorials. It’s a meal that helps us remember our distinctive culture without stone or paper. When we eat that meal together we silence our detractors and say to them “we will not be reconstructed” by your deconstruction.
To the memory and in honor of our ancestors, we eat in defiance! We remember their sacrifice and we look forward to the day of their vindication.
If this is beginning to sound familiar or if you’re getting nervous that I may be about to commit heresy, don’t worry. I unequivocally confess that there is no comparison in the value or importance between the Holy Eucharist and the traditional New Years meal of Southerners. There is no equivalency between black eyed peas and the bread or wine. There is no special presence of Robert E Lee on New Years Day.
There is some equivocation though.
From the dirt
One reason Southerners understand the link between community and food is their Christian roots. Southern culture ought not form our theology, but we ought to understand that our forefather’s theology formed much of our culture. We can’t substitute Southern tradition for true religion. But, we ought to chase what’s true and valuable about being Southern back to true religion and discard the leftovers. What is true about this Southern tradition?
We ought to love our neighbors enough to die for them. There is no greater love than that. Our forefathers did that imperfectly. Jesus is the true and perfect lover of us. Remember.
We ought to strive to persevere. We don’t need all that we have as benefactors of God’s grace. Remember and be thankful.
In our thankfulness, share. True justice doesn’t come from guilt. It springs from a thankful heart. Our grandparents persevered and passed to us prosperity. We ought to share that with others in our community because we have thankful hearts.
Community ought to be our reality. Our lives should serve our kith and our hearts and fire sides ought to be large enough to warm our neighbors. Our gardens should feed them and churches should essentially be the focal point of our community. Remember. We are the children of God called to a community, not mere individuals.
What’s the secret?
The secret is there is no secret. We must eat together.
2 Silos Brewing in Manassas gets community
That is the equivocation. We experience Christ by sharing a meal in community. It only makes sense to build upon that.
If you want relationships in your church to grow, eat together. Do you need healing with a brother or sister, share a meal. Reach out to your community with food.
Remember who you are. You exist in a community. Your food comes from the ground. That same soil is shared by your true neighbors. The world wants you to forget that.
Since our forefathers hid in the catacombs, we ate in remembrance. Our Holy Meal is shared in part as defiance of our detractors. Its done often and in community.
So it is with our New Years tradition. We eat together and we remember.