“Light tomorrow with today.” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
By: Proserpina, 2:36 AM GMT on December 29, 2011
New Year foods around the world.
The celebration of the New Year on January 1st is a relatively new. The earliest recording of a new year celebration, going back to c. 2000 B.C., is the mid-March celebration in Mesopotamia. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the Fall Equinox, and the Greeks celebrated theirs on the Winter Solstice.
The early Romans celebrated the New Year on Mach 1, their calendar had only ten months and began with the month of March. The first time that New Year was celebrated on January 1 was in Rome in 153 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 46 B.C., making January 1st the official New Year for the Roman world.
There was a change in the Middle Ages when January 1st was abolished as the beginning of the new year. As a result the new year was celebrated at different times in different places. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar restored January 1 as the first day of the new year. While most Catholic countries adopted the January 1st right away, the Protestant countries continued to celebrate on March 1. For example the British did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752 and until then they celebrated the new year in March, along with the American colonies.
The one thing that all places have in common is the idea that the food you eat on the first day of the year will bring good luck and prosperity, provided of course you eat the proper foods. The following are a few of the foods that are eaten around the world to insure a lucky year:
In the American South and other parts of the USA people eat Hoppin’ John made with black-eyed peas which will bring plenty of everything for the rest of the year.
Legumes are very popular in many places besides the USA, for example in Japan, Denmark, Croatia, Slovakia.
Lentils are very popular because they are shaped like little coins or monetary units, hence a symbol of prosperity. In Brazil and Italy, bowls of lentils are served to signify wealth.
Pork is eaten in Germany, usually served with sauerkraut because it is made with cabbage. Green vegetables are considered a lucky dish because their green leaves represent money.
Pork symbolizes the “fat of the land’. If a family had a pig to slaughter they were considered prosperous since they would have food in the coming winter months. The expression ‘pork barrel’ goes back to the time when Americans stored salted pork in wooden barrels and the amount of meat indicated the state of the family’s circumstances. Pork is served for New Year’s dinner in Spain, Portugal, Cuba, and Hungary.
As seen above the Germans serve pork with sauerkraut, and eat a variety of pork based sausages. Americans use ham and ham hocks to flavor the black-eyed peas. People in Pennsylvania and in the Midwest prefer to eat pork ribs and kielbasa sausage with sauerkraut and potatoes. Italy enjoys a gelatinous pork sausage called cotechino, sliced and topped with mustard. (I have never eaten nor seen this ‘delicacy’, thank goodness!).
Obviously many of the new year food customs go back to an agrarian society when pigs were slaughtered around the time of the winter solstice.
The Vietnamese enjoy watermelon because its red flesh signifies luck. They even dye the seeds red and serve them as delicacies. The Japanese serve red snapper and soba noodles, both a symbol of luck and long life.
Seafood is a symbol of fertility and abundance. Japan serves prawns for long life. People in Germany, Poland, and Scandinavia at the stroke of midnight eat pickled herring. Swedes eat shrimp, salmon, crab, oysters, and anchovies. In Denmark they prefer boiled cod while China serves whole fish, head and tail intact, to symbolize a good beginning and end of the coming year. Lobster is avoided in many cultures because it swims backward!
Cakes and round shaped desserts such as donuts are very popular. The round or ring shape symbolizes the circle of life, coming full circle, and the completing of a year’s cycle. Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands enjoy donuts. In many countries the cakes are baked with a coin or a trinket inside. Whoever gets the slice with the prize is predicted to have a particularly wonderful year. In Greece the cake is called Vasilopita to honor St. Basil whose life is commemorated on January 1.
Mexico has a similar ring shaped cake baked with a trinket inside, it is called rosca de reyes.
Spain has an interesting custom which started in 1909 when grape growers had an overabundance of grapes. At the first stroke of midnight people start consuming the first of twelve grapes, one at each stroke. Each grape represents a month of the year. (My students used to enjoy this particular custom and they ‘practiced’ the tradition as prescribed. Fortunately no one ever choked on the grapes, and it was fun to watch their cheeks puff up as they added each grape unable to swallow before each stroke. After the grape eating it was time to enjoy the several rosca de reyes brought by me and some of the students.)
Italy, in addition to the cotechino and the lentils, serves a little dessert called chiacchiere. Chiacchiere are made with flattened pieces of dough, fried, drenched with honey, and dusted with powdered sugar. It used to be my favorite New Year’s Day dessert. I say used to be because I have never made this sweet, it was made by my relatives when I was a child. By the way, chiacchiere means gossip, rumor, and are also served for carnival.
Updated: 11:40 AM GMT on January 02, 2012