Another year has come and gone, so it's time to pop the bubbly and raise a glass to the promise of another year to come. And while champagne might’ve picked up as the drink of choice to celebrate New Year’s at the turn of the 19th century, it’s not the only food-centric tradition that exists to ring in the coming year.
Many cultures around the globe have food and drink-related traditions designed to bring in luck, health, and happiness before the clock strikes midnight and usher in the New Year. Here’s a collection of different cultural traditions, to help you make the best of 2020.
To celebrate NYE, the people of Spain gather at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, in front of the square's clock tower to ring in next year. With 12 seconds remaining until the New Year, people eat 12 green grapes to bring good luck for the 12 months. It’s considered to be bad luck if you can’t down them all by the final midnight’s chime.
This grape-eating custom began at the turn of the 20th century and is said to have been thought up by grape producers in southern Spain. Since then, the tradition has also set roots in many other Spanish-speaking nations.
On New Year's Eve, millions of Americans gather in New York City’s Times Square to watch the famous ‘ball drop’, a tradition that began in 1907. Americans also like bringing in the new year with some food. In the southern states of the United States, people often eat Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed peas, pork, and rice, to bring in good luck in the coming year. Black-eyed peas, in particular, are thought to bring wealth owing to their resemblance to coins. In other parts of the U.S., people eat sauerkraut with pork sausage on New Year’s Day.
Italians prefer ringing in the new year with lentils, a dish called Cotechino con Lenticchieto, on account of their coin-like shape, symbolising luck and prosperity. The meal ends with Chiacchiere, balls of fried dough that are rolled in honey and powdered sugar and prosecco. The dishes find their roots in Modena, but New Year's Eve feasts thrive across the country.
On New Year’s Eve, the Japanese eat soba noodles. Though soba is eaten all year round, the noodles served at midnight are called Toshikoshi soba, which translates to, ‘from one year to another’. The noodles symbolise longevity, so the longer the noodle, the better the year. However shorter noodles signify the letting go of the past year’s regrets, before starting off the New Year on a fresh note.
Another custom called the Mochitsuki, involves the pounding of mochi rice cakes on New Year’s. Rice is said to symbolise fertility, luck and wealth, which is why sweet, glutinous rice is washed, soaked, steamed and pounded into a smooth mass. Then people take turns pinching off pieces to make into small buns that are later eaten for dessert.
The Irish welcome the year by chasing away any bad luck and evil spirits from their homes. They follow the tradition of banging bread against the walls of their homes to invite good luck in. Another significance is that doing so also ensures that the coming year is filled with an abundance of bread and other foods.
The Dutch begin their New Year Eve celebrations by eating ring-shaped treats. These are said to symbolise a full circle and lead to good fortune. In many Dutch homes, the ring-shaped treat of choice are fritters called Olie Bollen.
The Brazilians consider number 7 to be a lucky number, and so on New Year’s Eve, they eat seven pomegranate seeds and seven grapes. While the seeds are eaten to ensure their pockets are always full, the grapes are eaten to ensure abundance in all areas of life.
Austria and Germany
Austrians and Germans bring in the New Year’s Eve celebrations aka Sylvesterabend, or the eve of Saint Sylvester, with a celebration that involves food. The Austrians feast on suckling pigs for dinner and decorate the table with little pigs made of marzipan, called Marzipanschwein. They wash all that down with a red wine punch made with cinnamon and spices—Austrian Punsch.
For the French, the New Year is all about a huge feast, commonly known as le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre takes place—a meal of traditional, decadent eats, including foie gras, oysters, lobster and escargot take centre stage. And of couse, champagne is the drink of choice.
Denmark and Norway
New Year’s Eve celebrations are kickstarted with a simple meal of boiled cod with mustard. This is then followed by eating a tower of marzipan doughnuts called Kransekage, meaning ‘wreath’ or ‘doughnut’ cake.
These treats were called oOverflødighedshorn (cornucopia), because the whole donut tower was tipped on its side, with chocolate and treats spilling out. The cake is also relished by Norwegians and is typically made using marzipan, a bottle of wine or Aquavit is placed in the centre and often decorated with ornaments, flags and crackers.
The Polish and the Scandinavians celebrate the coming of another year by feasting on herring. The herrings’ silver colour is what’s credited for bringing prosperity and bounty if eaten at the stroke of midnight. Some of the most common ways of eating pickled herring include that of having it with cream sauce or with onions.
One special Polish NYE preparation of pickled herring, called Sledzie Marynowane, involves the soaking of whole salt herrings in water for about an entire day and then layering them in a jar with onions, allspice, sugar and white vinegar.
Scandinavians, on the other hand, prefer relishing their herring alongside a generous serving of some smoked and pickled fish, pate and meatballs.
Before ringing in the New Year, the Colombians follow a simple tradition of placing three potatoes—peeled, unpeeled, and a half-peeled—under their beds. As the clock strikes midnight, the first potato they grab out will play a role in determining what their new year will look like. A peeled one means they’ll have financial problems, unpeeled one symbolises abundance in all areas, while a half-peeled one means they’ll be somewhere in between.
For the Greeks, new year celebrations are all about eating Vasilopita, a sweet yeast bread. Eaten at midnight, the bread is made in honour of Greece’s revered St. Basil. Before diving into the cake, a slice of bread is set aside for the saint and a portion for the poor. The family can then dig in, beginning with the oldest member. Typically, a coin is baked into the bread and the person whose slice contains the coin is said to have a year filled with good fortune.