In many parts of the world, the foods eaten on New Years Eve and New Years Day have important symbolic meanings. These symbols seem to fall into several major categories.
The first class symbolizes financial prosperity. This type of food is round like coins. Often, the dish will be round beans, like lentils, that will expand when it cooks, symbolizing expanding fortunes. Another financial symbol is food with big green leaves, representing paper money. The green may also be for growth. Foods like this are cabbage, collard greens and kale. Golden colored foods are also good for financial rewards in the New Year.
The second type of New Years food symbol represents the hope of having food on the table throughout the year. Pork is one important symbol of eating well year round. It’s also a sign of prosperity. In the olden times, if your family had a pig, you were doing well!
In some countries, actually having food on your table and/or plates at the stroke of midnight is a sign that you’ll have food throughout the year.
A third symbol involves eating sweet food in order to have a sweet year. In some countries people bake a coin in a sweet cake and the person who gets the coin will have good luck throughout the year. In Spain, Portugal, and parts of South and Central America, 12 sweet grapes, one for each month of the year, are eaten at midnight. The hope is to eat 12 sweet grapes to have 12 sweet months!
Fish is thought to symbolize good luck in many countries.
Another symbol for good luck involves eating food in a ring shape – like doughnuts or ring shaped cakes. This represents coming full circle to successfully complete the year – that’s good luck.
In Japan, long Buckwheat Soba noodles symbolize long life. Just don’t break them while you’re eating them!
Here’s a list of some symbolic food types and the places where they’re eaten for the New Year. Feel free to let us know what’s eaten for New Years in your country, in the comments below.
Round Food (Like Coins for Monetary Luck)
Italy, Brazil & Germany (Lentils)
Philippines (Round Fruit)
Southern US (Black-eyed Peas)
Green Leafy Vegetables (Like Paper Money for Monetary Luck)
Southern USA (Collard Greens & Turnips)
Golden Food (Like Gold for Monetary Luck)
Southern USA (Corn Bread)
Pig (Symbol of Plentiful Food in the New Year)
Hungary (Roast suckling pig with a 4 leaf clover in its mouth)
Italy (Cotechino con lenticchie – pork sausage with lentils)
Germany (Kassler mit Sauerkraut – financial luck)
Pennsylvania Dutch (USA – Pork with Sauerkraut)
Food on the Table or Plate at Midnight (Symbol of Plentiful Food in the New Year)
Sweets (Symbolic of a Sweet Year or Good Luck)
Greece (Round cake called Vasilopita – made with a coin baked inside – whoever gets the coin is lucky throughout the year)
Israel (Jewish New Year – Apple dipped in honey & grapes)
Egypt (Candy for kids)
Korea (Sweet Fruits)
Norway (Rice Pudding with an almond inside – good luck to the one who gets the almond)
12 Grapes at Midnight (Symbolizing 12 Sweet Months)
Ring Shaped Food (Good Luck)
Mexico (Rosca de Reyes – Luck)
Netherlands (Olie Bollen – Doughnut)
Fish (Symbol of Good Luck)
Germany (Herring & Carp)
Poland (Pickled Herring)
Denmark (Boiled Cod)
Italy (Dried Salted Cod)
Japan (Red Snapper – Pink is a lucky color)
Sweden (Seafood Salad)
A Happy, Lucky and Prosperous New Year to All of You!
Many thanks to Ed Gawlinski for pointing out that they eat lentils in Italy for the New Year, which lead me on this long quest that resulted in this discussion!
UPDATE: You can read about symbolic food for the New Year in Iran on Mama Lisa’s World Blog.
This artilce was posted on Saturday, December 29th, 2007 at 11:48 pm and is filed under Amish, Armenia, Bermuda, China, Countries & Cultures, Cuba, Cuisine, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Greece, Holidays Around the World, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lesotho, Mexico, Netherlands, New Years, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Recipes of the World, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, USA, Vietnam. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.