New Year Traditions
From Bangkok to Beirut and Paris to Panama, people around the world celebrate the New Year with feasts and celebrations. Many New Year’s menus are made up of foods thought to bring good fortune to those who consume them. But what exactly makes a food “lucky”?
Foods thought to look like money are perhaps the most popular New Year fare, eaten in hopes that they will bring prosperity. In Italy, the traditional dish eaten at midnight is lentils with sliced sausages; both bring to mind coins. In addition to lentils, other legumes such as beans or black-eyed peas are also favorites – not only do they resemble coins, but they swell as they cook, symbolizing a person’s riches growing. If you really want to up the ante, eat some collard greens with your black-eyed peas like they do in the American South – the greens are said to look like folded-up bills. The German and Danish also believe that eating greens, preferably in large servings, will ensure wealth.
Not all cultures measure good fortune in money alone. In Asia, longevity is valued as well. The Japanese eat buckwheat noodles, the longer the better, to represent long life. In China, some foods are deemed lucky not because they look like something, but because they sound like something. Citrus fruit gives the Chinese a lucky triple whammy in the form of oranges, tangerines and pomelos, with Chinese pronunciations sounding like the words for wealth, luck and the verb “to have.”
For a little protein to go with those lucky fruits and vegetables, fish or pork could fill the bill. A fish’s scales glitter like gold, and its multiple eggs represent fertility and abundance. Austria, Hungary and Cuba value the fatty pig whose forward rooting behavior brings to mind progress in traditional folklore.
What to serve for dessert at your lucky feast? Think circles – cakes, cookies, anything with a shape suggestive of a coin. Many European countries traditionally place a trinket or nut in a cake; whoever receives the hidden goodie is guaranteed good fortune in the upcoming year. For those cutting down on sweets to atone for holiday excesses, citrus fruit might come in handy. Or, you can follow the tradition of some Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries and eat one grape for each month of the New Year. Here’s hoping yours are all sweet, as sour grapes indicate that particular month may be challenging.
If one of your resolutions is to eat a bit less, follow the example of the Philippines and Germany. In these countries, it is customary to leave a little food on the plate to ensure full cupboards for the year to come. Just remember: no matter what you eat, if it’s shared with family and friends, the odds of it bringing good fortune and happiness are in your favor.