What Lucky Foods are you Eating for New Year’s?

December 27, 2021
Ottawa Journal (December 27 – December 31, 2021)
David Tilson, M.P. (Dufferin-Caledon)

New Year’s is a time for each of us to say goodbye to the past year and to look forward to the year ahead with renewed optimism and hope. There are many ways to celebrate New Year’s and many of us have our own annual customs and traditions to ring in the New Year, to ensure the year ahead is filled with good fortune. For some, food plays an important role in this endeavour.

    There are several “lucky” New Year’s foods that are believed to bring good fortune in the coming year. The traditions they are prepared and enjoyed in can vary from culture to culture, but there are common themes that can be seen amongst all of them. There are typically six major categories of auspicious foods which include: grapes, greens, fish, pork, legumes, and cakes. 

    It has been said that in Spain, the Spanish celebrate New Year’s by consuming twelve grapes at midnight – one grape for each stroke of the clock. This tradition dates back to 1909 and was started by grape growers in the Alicante region, to ensure a grape surplus. The tradition then spread to Portugal and to the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies of Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru. In these cases, each grape represents a different month.

    Cooked greens are eaten in many different countries at New Year’s, as their green leaves have the appearance of folded money and therefore, represent economic prosperity. The greens can include: cabbage, collards, kale, and chard. In Denmark, stewed kale with sugar and cinnamon is consumed, while in Germany, sauerkraut is eaten. In the southern United States, collard greens are the preferred choice. There is also the belief that the more greens consumed is directly related to the amount of fortune one can expect to have during the next year.

    Legumes such as: beans, peas, and lentils are also considered to be symbolic of money. It is believed that their small size is similar to that of coins when cooked and therefore, if they’re eaten, financial rewards lay ahead. A custom found in Italy is to eat cotechino con lenticchie, which means sausages and green lentils, shortly after midnight. It’s also customary in Germany to pair pork and legumes, typically in the form of lentil or split pea soup and sausage. Lentil soup or lentils and rice are the first meal of the New Year in Brazil, whereas in Japan, osechi-ryori (a group of symbolic dishes which includes sweet black beans) is consumed over the first three days of the year. A traditional dish known as “hoppin’ john” is eaten in the southern United States and consists of black-eyed peas or cowpeas.

    The choice of pork as a New Year’s food emerged from the idea that pigs symbolize progress. In Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria, roast suckling pig is often prepared for New Year’s. Pork dishes, such as pig’s feet are often eaten in Sweden and roast pork and sausages are a popular choice in Germany. Pork can also be found on the tables in the United States and in Italy, where it symbolizes wealth and prosperity.

    Fish is another popular choice for New Year’s. It is believed that cod, in particular, has been a popular feast food since the Middle Ages. The reason for this is that it could be preserved and transported when refrigeration and transportation presented significant challenges. In Denmark, boiled cod is enjoyed, whereas in Italy, dried salt cod is eaten from Christmas to New Year’s. Herring is popular at midnight in Poland and Germany. In Sweden, several different fishes comprise the buffet table, while in Japan, the consumption of herring roe is symbolic of fertility; shrimp for a long life; and dried sardines for a good harvest.

    Cakes and various other baked goods are enjoyed worldwide between Christmas and New Year’s. However, round or ring-shaped cakes are favoured for New Year’s. In Italy, chiacchiere, which are honey-drenched balls of pasta dough that are fried and then finished with powdered sugar are popular, while in Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands doughnuts are consumed. In Holland, Ollie bollen, a puffy, doughnut-like pastry with apples, raisins, and currants is eaten. In some cultures, it’s popular to place a trinket or a coin inside the cake or baked goods, which will bring good luck to the recipient in the New Year. This type of tradition can be found Mexico and Greece. In Sweden and Norway, a similar tradition can be found, except instead of a cake and a coin, a whole almond is placed in rice pudding and the one who receives the almond is guaranteed good fortune in the New Year.

    Undoubtedly, there are many food choices and customs to bring good luck and fortune in the New Year. No matter what foods and traditions you choose to enjoy this New Year’s, I sincerely wish you and yours a healthy and happy New Year, filled with good fortune!