Well-intentioned or just superstitious, folks all over the world consume symbolically lucky foods and drink on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Everyone is looking for prosperity and well-being and some will even eat pig’s feet to get it.
Southern United States
Throughout the South, New Year’s Day dinner is Hoppin’ John. The black-eyed pea is the focus of this rice dish, with a pork product such as bacon or fat back for added luck (and flavor). The peas symbolize coins and eating them is meant to bring great prosperity. But peas and pork are not enough. Leafy greens such as collards or turnips are eaten for their resemblance to money, and yellow cornbread is gobbled up to ensure gold is plentiful in the coming year.
Denmark and Norway
Kransekage in Danish (and kransekake in Norwegian) is an elaborate multi-tiered cake made of marzipan and decorated with icing and little flags. The best ones have a bottle of Aquavit nestled in the middle of the rings. Ring-shaped foods are meant to ensure the year comes full circle, with you in it. The Aquavit may put you spinning in another direction.
The Dutch devour the deep-fried sweets known as Oliebollen at New Year’s. These “oily balls” were first eaten back when Germanic tribes inhabited the Netherlands and celebrated Yule. Oliebollen were eaten to ward off the goddess Perchta who enjoyed flying around with her evil spirits at that time of year to check on who’d been naughty or nice. The good would get a silver coin. The bad would get their bellies sliced open and stuffed with hay. Oliebollen and other fried foods were eaten so her sword would slide off the greasy stomachs of those she attacked. If eating oliebollen isn’t an admission of guilt, I don’t know what is.
Spain, Portugal and Latin America
Many Latin American countries have adopted the Spanish and Portuguese ritual of eating 12 grapes, one as each bell tolls the start of the New Year. Those who manage to gulp down the twelve in time, without choking (which is universally considered to be unlucky), are assured good luck for the future. The grape of choice for Spaniards is from the Vinalopo region of Alicante and is famous for its delicate (and easily eaten) skin. If you don’t think 13 is unlucky, go Peruvian and eat an extra grape to ensure good things really will happen.
Lentils are eaten throughout Italy on New Year’s, typically just after midnight. The pulse is seen as fortuitous thanks to its coin-like shape. The more you eat, the better off you’ll be financially. Gastrically is another matter. The lentils are often paired with a somewhat spicy, fatty pork sausage called cotechino. Zampone, a sausage-stuffed pig’s trotter is also served in the hopes of attracting more porcine-flavored fortune. Regions of Italy have their own hopeful traditions. The Umbrians enjoy a marzipan-like cake shaped like a snake that symbolizes the continuous cycle of life, while the Piedmontese eat grains of rice that symbolize money.
Poland and Scandinavia
Thanks to their silver scales and relative abundance this time of year, herring is served in both Poland and Scandinavia on New Year’s. Whether pickled with spices or layered with sour cream and onions, feasting promises a year of plenty.
The first three days of the New Year are spent enjoying osechi-ryori, a symbolic selection of foods elaborately presented in lacquered boxes. Long noodles are also enjoyed this time of year. To ensure a long life it is important to slurp whole noodles without biting them. If you’re not full yet, tuck into a soup made from bonito (fish) and kombo (kelp) stock called ozoni, which is topped with pounded rice cakes called mochi. If you eat this soup as your first meal of the New Year it is believed the next 12 months will be happy.
Germany and Austria
Nowhere does luck seem luckier than in Germany and Austria, where a confectionary figure known as a geldscheisser positively excretes fortune from his marzipan bottom. Also popular is the glücksschwein, the fortuitous pig again, this time in marzipan form. For the best fortune, it’s wise to grab a piece of his bottom and make a wish.