The shiny mahogany table glistens in the sunlight of New Year’s Day. Black-eyed peas and collard greens rest in the center of the table in glass bowls engraved with flowers. My mother, father, and three sisters share their goals for the New Year, glowing as the sunlight rushes through the blinds and illuminates the room. We relish the delicious food of last night’s preparation, excited to continue this tradition. We celebrate our Blackness.
To me, Blackness is strength and struggle. Blackness comes from everywhere— every continent and country— and it is impossible to characterize this community as a monolith. We are diverse, strong, and powerful. We all have different customs, cultures, and practices in every nation. For example, the Caribbean loves plantains, and West Africa has endless methods to prepare rice. Blackness will travel: on screen, in government, into every community, and all over the world.
In all cultures, food is a staple. There is always a gathering with food, leftovers, and the love and laughter that comes from breaking bread. For African-Americans, food has historical significance. Most of the food we eat can be traced to the backbone of this nation: the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Despite the pain and suffering of slavery, the enslaved people had the strength to keep going and celebrate the new year with hope for a better future. The tradition of eating this New Year’s meal is a reminder of that hope and resilience. It is a testament to the human spirit’s strength.
This meal— black-eyed peas and collard greens— comes from the American South. The black-eyed peas represent good luck. The collard greens, folded like money, symbolize wealth. The meal we eat at New Year’s comes from slavery. The beans and greens were the “poor” foods that slave masters did not want to eat and gave to slaves. As we enter the New Year, each part of the meal represents progress and continuation. This meal was never about eating; it was about the bravery and perseverance to continue under the most barbaric practice of history.
My memories of New Year’s Eve as a little girl are unmistakably clear. Then, I never understood the importance of this dinner’s preparation or the distinct methods my father used. I just hungrily watched in the kitchen. My father, however, spent hours on his feet, making sure everything was perfect for the holiday. The beans simmered in the pot, collard greens cooked over the stove, and his cornbread recipe was down to a science.
My father would always say his collard greens needed an extra level of careful precaution. It is critical to follow every step, not grow impatient and skip preparation. He would take the biggest knife in the house, make careful cuts around the core and remove it. Then, he washed them, paying close attention to removing all of the grit and roughness. He would rinse them once, twice, and strain them last. Then, he dried them, placed the leaves on a cutting board, and chopped them into bite-sized pieces. My father did this with ease. He is swift with his knife, he knows every edge, and how to be careful. He knew what he was looking for: the finest greens on earth.
This determination can be seen in every part of the meal. Unsoaked black-eyed peas take hours to cook. I can remember when my father was moving the black-eyed peas from the bag into a bowl, taking it to the freshly-cleaned sink, turning on the silver faucet, and waiting patiently as the pot filled with water. Then, it would sit on the countertop for six hours, soaking up everything it could.
My childhood followed the same process. My family would get me dressed, bring me to the bookstore, and let me soak up all the words. This is how I grew up: surrounded by knowledge and waiting to advance. I embraced this environment and pushed myself to learn more, striving to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me. I saw this as an example of resilience and strength— something that my ancestors had to do to survive. This was Blackness to me— learning to take advantage of my opportunities, and appreciate my ancestors. Through the books I read, I saw the power of knowledge and the importance of being a lifelong learner. I wanted to use my knowledge, to be a leader in my community, and be a role model for other Black people. Black-eyed peas were not just my culture, but my identity, and celebrated every year.
My entire family was like this too. They were quick on their feet, knew their way around every obstacle, and never gave up. They were focused on success. This drive was infectious. It spread to everyone they met, like the seasoning of the greens, only perfected by careful preparation. This drive they had was something they had nurtured and developed over the years. It was a result of their diligent work and dedication, and it was something they had passed down to me. They had a sixth sense that enabled them to navigate through life’s tricky waters.
Black-eyed peas and collard greens are part of Blackness. Blackness’ beauty, resilience, and power were given to me in this New Year’s tradition. This was not only a physical tradition, but an emotional one as well. I was able to carry on these values through the years, and I rely on them today. This New Year’s tradition continues to be a reminder of the strength of my ancestors and the power of Blackness. When I sit at the table, the hearty broth of collard greens dances on my tongue and raises my spirits. Most importantly, my place in history perfectly aligns with my ancestors. We are stars coming into place in the sky, shining beacons of hope overlapping throughout history.
Rainey Reese is a high school student from the vibrant city of Chicago, Illinois. With a fervent passion for the humanities, she has embarked on a personal journey of self-expression through her writing. Inspired by her New Year’s resolution to write more authentically, her essay titled “The New Year’s Tradition: Blackness, Resilience, and the Power of Food” explores the cultural significance of a cherished family tradition and aims to shed light on the meaning it holds for her and her loved ones. Rainey’s work has been previously published a in Teen Ink Magazine, and you can explore more of her writing at