New Year, Old Traditions – These go hand in hand as we make the transition into the next chapter of our lives!
In order to increase the chances of good fortune and success in the coming year, cultures all around the world participate in varying superstitious, traditions and rituals, with food as the main commonality as goals to begin the year on clean slates and with full bellies. Whether it’s intended to beckon good health, great wealth or true love, the presence of food and drinks always makes the process that much more enjoyable!
In the United States, the beginning of a new year is typically celebrated with champagne toasts at midnight, while their neighbours in the south add a twist to the tradition by also eating black beans as symbols of good luck.
Meanwhile in Europe, our Estonian friends partake in the ritual of consuming up to 12 meals on New Year’s Eve, leaving part of each meal unfinished for the spirits of ancestors who visit the house that day, while the Scottish prefer to embark on the tradition of “first footing”, a ritual which involves bringing gifts of shortbread and whisky to neighbors, starting the year with sweets and alcohol.
With plenty of ways to celebrate the New Year, all of them represent the reach for prosperity, health and wealth.
As we share some of these lucky traditions from around the world, Banbayu wishes all of you a Happy and Lucky New Year!
Grains and Legumes
All round seed-like legumes like beans, black-eyed peas and lentils are reminiscent of coins and therefore represent wealth and fortune for the New Year. When cooked, they swell and expand, symbolizing the idea of growing wealth.
Italians and Germans like pairing pork and beans together, while Brazilians prefer their first meal of the New Year to be lentils in soup or served with rice.
Asians also widely enjoy grains like rice and barley, including the Japanese who serve the sweet delicacy kuro-mame made of black beans, consumed during the first three days of the New Year.
Long noodles are indispensable symbols of longevity in Asia – From soba in Japan to Vietnamese pho and egg noodles in China, the noodles are prepared lovingly with extra care so as not to compromise the shape and length.
Ideally, they should also only be eaten whole and slurped as loudly as possible at midnight for even more luck!
Cooked greens, including cabbage, collards, kale and chard, are consumed at New Year’s in different countries for the simplest reason – The leaves resemble folded currency and are thus symbolic of economic fortune.
The Danish eat them stewed and occasionally sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, while the Germans consume sauerkraut. In the southern cities of the United States, collards are the greens of choice and are often served with black beans (representing coins).
Aside from adding much-needed fibre to the New Year, it is popularly believed that the more greens one eats, the larger one’s fortune would be the following year!
In Spain, revellers quickly consume twelve grapes at midnight – One for each stroke of the clock. This supposedly dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when grape growers initiated the practice to deal with the grape surplus. The idea soon spread to Portugal as well as former Spanish and Portuguese colonies Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru. The 12 grapes each signify a stroke of the clock and represent the 12 months ahead, meaning that if the eighth grape tastes sour, August might be a difficult month to watch out for! The goal though is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight, while the Peruvians insist on consuming a 13th grape for extra fortune.
Other popular fruits to eat during New Year include pomegranates, with its seeds symbolizing prosperity, and figs, representing fertility. Pomegranates are associated with good luck as their red colour represents the human heart, and for both fruits, their round seeds symbolize abundance and prosperity.
Round or ring-shaped cakes are commonly served during New Year celebrations all around the world. From Italy’s fried and sugar dusted honey drenched balls of pasta dough to raisin-filled doughnuts served in Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands, all of which represent the joy of beginning the year on a sweet and celebratory note.
Pigs are highly regarded as symbols of progress because they seemingly never feel inclined to walk backwards, and because of their rotund physiques, representing wealth and over-abundance. The way the animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving is also symbolic of persistence and strength.
(Meanwhile, eating chicken is discouraged because the bird scratches backwards, representing regret!)
Roast suckling pig is commonly served for New Year’s in Cuba, Spain, Portugal and Hungary, while chocolate or pink-sugared pig-shaped desserts like glücksschwein and marzipanschwein are popular in Germany and Austria.
Shiny and coin-like fish scales are popular all around the world not only because of their physical appearances but also based on the fact that fish swim in schools, all of which signify wealth, support and abundance.
Asian cultures prefer that the whole fish be served with the head and the tail intact to ensure a good year ahead from beginning to end, while the Polish, Germans and Scandinavians believe that eating fish at the stroke of midnight will ensure a bountiful year ahead.