The U.S. is a melting pot of nearly every culture from around the world but most of us don’t keep any food-related traditions when we celebrate the new year… well, aside from champagne and party foods. So, you might be surprised to learn about some of the very specific foods that other cultures eat on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day in hopes of bringing good luck all year long.
In the South – the only region of the U.S. that seems to have developed a food tradition for the new year – black-eyed peas are eaten on New Year’s Day to bring luck for the whole year. According to a legend from the Civil War, stores of the legume were left behind by Union soldiers who pillaged the South because they considered it unfit for human to eat. Southerners, of course, knew better and considered themselves lucky to have a chance to survive the winter on those nutritious black-eyed peas and salted pork.
Right at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the Spanish eat 12 grapes as fast as possible. They’re eaten individually and bring good luck for all 12 months of the year. The history of the tradition is unclear but may have been encouraged by grape growers in the early 20th century.
Lentils are eaten on New Year’s Day to bring prosperity for the year in both Italy and India. Lentils are believed to represent good fortune because they’re round and look similar to coins.
In Asian countries like China and Japan, long noodles are eaten on New Year’s Day because they symbolize longevity. Breaking a noodle while cooking, serving, or eating them brings bad luck.
In Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations like Turkey and Greece, they celebrate New Year’s Eve with pomegranates because they symbolize fertility, life, and abundance. In Greece, it’s tradition to break the pomegranate on the floor and hope for as many seeds as possible to fall out since they represent luck for the coming year.
These are just a few of the many food customs our friends and neighbors enjoy in hopes of a lucky, prosperous, and happy new year. Adopt the ones your ancestors may have enjoyed or celebrate with all of them. It certainly can’t hurt to shore up on good luck charms for 2021.