The World of Food: New Year’s Day

By Julia Maish |

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New Year’s Day is imbued with meaning for many across the globe. As we bid farewell to the old year and prepare to welcome the new one, we often resolve to make a fresh start, turn over a new leaf, plot ways to live our best lives, and so on. After one last decadent blowout on New Year’s Eve, that is! That so many celebrants crawl into January 1 with a massive hangover from the night before may seem counterproductive and odd, but no odder than some other New Year’s traditions around the world…

If you happen to be a Peruvian villager, for example, you might start your year with a communal, score-settling fistfight. In Denmark, it’s customary to gather all your unused crockery and shatter it against the doors of your friends and neighbors (no word on who cleans up the mess). In some areas of South America, it’s important to choose the color of your underwear according to your priorities for the year (white = world peace; red = true love; gold = wealth and prosperity). In Scotland, as the clock strikes midnight, it’s considered lucky if the first person who comes through the door is a tall, dark, and handsome man. (Depending on the circumstances, that could apply almost anywhere.)

Other unusual New Year’s Day traditions include: carting around a suitcase all day to ensure a travel-filled year; burning a scarecrow, an effigy of a famous person, or a photo from the previous year; spending the night camped out at a loved one’s grave; whispering to your cow; ringing bells; smiling at midnight; throwing bread at a wall or old furniture out a window; and leaping into an icy lake holding a tree trunk. All of these practices are meant, variously, to ensure good luck, prosperity, and/or robust health in the coming year. (Presumably, after you recover from hypothermia after that last stunt.)

Are there lucky foods for New Year’s? Of course there are! Here are just a few:

  • Round or ring-shaped foods (donuts, bagels, pancakes) — These delicious, filling carbohydrate-laden treats symbolize the year coming full circle. And not that we need any more excuses to indulge, but some believe that these “round” foods also suggest coins, and therefore portend financial success.
  • Coins — In Greece, actual coins are baked into a lemon cake (called a vasilopita), and the person who finds one in their portion will experience good fortune throughout the coming year. You might want to tread carefully, unless you have a dentist on call.
  • Ice Cream — If you’re in Switzerland, don’t eat this — drop it on the floor. This is supposed to ensure good luck in the coming year. In Greece, substitute a pomegranate for the ice cream. The more seeds you find, the luckier you will be.
  • Seven Meals — Estonians swear by this: if you eat seven meals on New Year’s Day, this symbolizes abundance. (We can get on board with this. Just be sure to stock up on antacids.)
  • Fish — These are lucky, as long as you consume the whole fish. The fish’s scales symbolize coins, and their forward swimming motion signifies progress.
  • Pork — Ever wonder where we got the expression “eating high on the hog?” Well, it refers to the choice cuts of meat reserved for the wealthy. (“Low on the hog” is the opposite, if you get our drift.) On New Year’s Day, though, pork is a lucky choice for everyone because of the hog’s round shape (see above) and the fact that the animal “roots forward” with its nose, which is thought to be aspirational. Ham, sausage, bacon, pork chops…they are all welcome on any table anytime, of course, but especially to start the year.
  • Black-Eyed Peas — Those of you have lived in the southern part of the U.S. have surely heard of Hoppin’ John. This dish of rice and black-eyed peas will ensure prosperity, as will lentils, which are the main components in a delicious, filling, and nutritious soup. Be sure to accompany that with a big serving of cornbread, which represents “the glories of gold.”

    Black-eyed peas

  • Grapes — As the clock strikes twelve, eat twelve grapes. If you can stuff them all in your mouth at once (without choking on them!), you will be lucky for the entire coming year. (Warning: if any of the grapes are sour, that portends a not-so-great month, so be prepared.)
  • Noodles — To our Japanese friends, long buckwheat (soba) noodles can signify a long life, but you must eat (or slurp) them in one fell swoop without breaking them. A bib (or tarp) is advisable, as this can be a messy undertaking.
  • Salad Greens — These can resemble folding paper money, so if you hoping for more of it this year (and who isn’t?), load up on kale, lettuce, cabbage, and anything else that is leafy and green. No requirements on dressing, but a nice, homemade Green Goddess couldn’t hurt!

Here’s to a healthy, prosperous, and LUCKY New Year!