For many, January 1 is a chance to make a clean start. Some even believe there are a variety of foods that are lucky and ensure next year will be a great one. While traditions may vary around the world, foods tend to be much the same. The six major categories of these “good luck” foods are grapes, greens, fish, pork, legumes, and cakes.
Many in Spain eat twelve grapes at midnight—one grape for each stroke of the clock. This dates back to 1909, when grape growers initiated the practice to take care of a grape surplus. Each grape represents a different month, so if for instance the third grape is a bit sour, March might be a rocky month.
Cooked greens, including cabbage, collards, kale, and chard, are consumed at New Year’s because — their green leaves look like folded money, and symbolize wealth. Europeans eat stewed kale and sauerkraut (cabbage) while in the southern US, collards are the green of choice.
Legumes including beans, peas, and lentils are also symbolic of money. Their small, seedlike appearance resembles coins. In Italy and Germany, it’s customary to eat beans with sausages, pork having its own lucky associations.
Of course, here in the South, it’s traditional to eat black-eyed peas. This all traces back to the legend that during the Civil War, the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, ran out of food while under attack. The residents fortunately discovered black-eyed peas and from then on black-eyed peas were considered lucky.
The custom of eating pork on New Year’s is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. Roast suckling pig is served for New Year’s in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria. Thanks to its rich fat content, it signifies wealth and prosperity.
Fish is the Thanksgiving Turkey of New Year’s Cod is very popular. The reason? Long before refrigeration and modern transportation, cod could be preserved and transported allowing it to reach the Mediterranean and even as far as North Africa and the Caribbean. The Catholic Church’s policy against red meat consumption on religious holidays helped make cod, as well as other fish, a popular choice. .
Ring-shaped cakes are the most popular for New Year’s.Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands eat donuts, and Holland has ollie bollen, puffy, donut-like pastries filled with apples, raisins, and currants. In certain cultures, it’s customary to hide a special trinket or coin inside the cake (Mexico and Greece do this)—the recipient will be lucky in the new year.
What Not to Eat
There are also a few foods to avoid too. Anything that involved creatures moving backwards is a no no. The idea is that this would lead to setbacks. Lobster and chicken, for instance, is a bad idea because of this. Now that you know what to eat, there’s one more superstition—that is, guideline—to keep in mind. In some countries, it’s customary to leave a little bit of each food on your plate past midnight to guarantee a stocked pantry in the New Year. If nothing else, it is good practice for the penance most of us will be paying in January for all the overeating we did during the Holidays
Happy New Year! See you in 2012!