New Year’s Food Rituals

By ERIN TURNER

The New Year is always such a welcome celebration.  It’s like a free “do over” where we can make resolutions to eat healthier, save more money, be more organized, have more patience and whatever various good habits we strive for each day throughout the year!  With the strike of the midnight toll, we feel that we are leaving behind a year of bad habits and starting fresh with the New Year.  We all have hopes of success, luck and prosperity.

This feeling about the New Year has been part of our worldwide culture for generations and as only humans can do, we ritualize everything with food!  So, hundreds of years ago we began using food to symbolize the start of a New Year and the prosperity it hopefully would bring.  Many of those customs have stayed with our cultures and they have become fun ways to ring in the New Year even if we don’t fully comprehend why we eat those particular foods.

So here is a overview of some of the traditional New Year’s foods from various cultures and the reasons why we grace our tables with these foods!

PORK: Many cultures serve pork on New Year’s because of its high fat content, pork symbolizes wealth and prosperity.  Also, older cultures believed that the pig rooted forward symbolizing progress and moving forward…something everyone wanted in the New Year. Most cultures stay away from poultry on New Year’s because chickens, turkeys and other birds scratch backward and no one wants to “scratch out a living” especially doing it backward!  There is also a superstition that your happiness will fly away with the birds’ feathers if you eat it on New Years  Guess I’ll be sticking to pork that day.

BEANS:  Every country has their variation of this traditional New Year’s food.  You’ll see lentils, quinoa, red beans or black-eyed peas depending on which region you’re from.  But it all comes from the same belief that beans symbolized coins (think of the term “bean counter”) and by eating beans on New Years, you assured yourself of more coins in your pocket during the year.  Our Southern friends were smart and combined 3 of the “lucky” foods into one famous dish called “Hoppin’ John”.  It combines black eyed peas, bacon and collard greens.  You get triple lucky eating this dish!

ROUND FRUIT:  Round fruit symbolizes the continuous cycle of life and many also represent abundance and fertility.  For farmers, this was something which they cherished and hoped for every year.  Pomegranates are high on the list of required foods on tables in Greece and surrounding countries on New Years.  In Spain and Mexico, grapes are the go-to fruit for the holiday celebration.  In Spain, legend has it that if you eat a grape every time the clock tolls at midnight and have them all eaten by the last toll, you will have a prosperous year!  Each grape symbolizes a month of the year and if you eat a sour one, then beware of that particular month!  Don’t you love folklore?

Photo by NikChick via FlickrRING SHAPED CAKES:  Various cultures will bestow their guests with bundt cakes or other ring-shaped cakes on New Years as a sign of wholeness and a completion of a full year.  Many cultures will hide trinkets in the cake giving the finder of the trinket extra prosperity in the New Year (and maybe some dental work as well from biting into the trinket!)  Lemon is a popular flavor for these cakes but no particular flavor is required forluck.

FISH:  With the scales on the fish which represent money (coins), this food found its way on to the New Year’s menu hundreds of years ago.  Many believe since fish swim in schools it indicates abundance, so this food is very common worldwide on New Years.  In Northwest America, you will see Salmon while in Scandinavian countries pickled Herring is the traditional fish.  Whatever fish you chose for New Years you can be sure that it is a lucky food!

GREENS:  From collard to spinach to kale, these all represent green money.  And if you eat the greens on New Years, the hope is you’ll have more green in your pocket throughout the year.

NOODLES:  This tradition is rooted in Japanese folklore.  Long noodles were slurped up on New Years as a sign of long life.  The noodles were never to be broken or cut in half.  This tradition pops up in other cultures as well.  Soba Noodles are the traditional noodle used in Japan but any noodle can be used…just don’t break it!

photo by tristanf via flickrCORNBREAD:  The lucky colors of New Year’s are Gold and Green…obviously based on financial prosperity.  So, cornbread was an obvious winner when it came to selecting New Year’s food.  With its golden glow inside and out, it has long been seen on New Year’s tables.  Some superstitious cooks add extra kernels of corn to their batch of cornbread which symbolizes gold nuggets.  When eaten with the extra corn, then the person should expect to have extra luck in the NewYear.

Whether all these foods truly do bring wealth, prosperity and abundance or not, they are fun to include this New Year’s holiday!  I love old folklore especially around food. I am always fascinated by the reasons why certain food was selected for celebrations or why it was intentionally avoided.

If not out of superstition then definitely out of pure tradition, many of these foods will be finding their way on my New Year’s table this year.  And if by chance, we happen to gain extra luck and prosperity from them then we’ll be eating them every year!

May this New Year be full of abundance, long life and prosperity to you all!

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 Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, sticking to a budget, and living sustainably in her blog archive.

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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