While researching black-eyed peas, greens and Southern New Year traditions, I ran across this great article on Epicurious.com that references these "lucky" foods as well as some other symbolic New Year's foods across the world. Check it out: Epicurious: Lucky Foods for the New Year.
Interestingly, cake is a traditional New Year's food. Why couldn't Southerners have adopted that? We love sweets! Fortunately, my Greek mother-in-law usually brings over a traditional Greek New Year's cake that she gets from a wonderful Greek-owned bakery in Atlanta -- International Bakery on Cheshire Bridge Road (for you locals). It's a spongy spice cake with a very thin powdered sugar icing. Baked inside is a coin, and whoever finds the coin, will be especially lucky in the coming year. Apparently this type of cake is popular in many different countries. I've also heard of people hiding a coin in a pot of black-eyed peas. As the mother of a two-year-old, I'm ever fearful of choking hazards. I find this particular tradition a little hard to swallow. (Get it? Pa dum dum.)
I'd love to hear about New Year's food traditions in your family. For now, I'm "digesting" a lot of different information and will post again soon!