New Year’s Food Traditions

Dining for luck, love and cash money in 2014

Midnight, Dec. 31: The tipping point for the New Year, when the clock strikes 12, and we all guzzle a little champagne, kiss our significant other (or drunkenly tongue the face of the person next to us) and set our intentions for the next 365 days. The goal is to end the old year with some introspection, bubbly booze and do whatever juju we can to ensure love, luck and prosperity follow us into the new one.

Most countries boast long-held traditions to ensure the arrival of these gifts of abundance — from singing “Auld Lang Syne” to wearing red underwear. And some of the most popular communal year-end rituals deal with consuming food because, as logic would have it, whatever you put into your body on the first of the year dictates what you get out of the rest of it: Put good in, get good out. Or, in this case, put collared greens in, get money out.  Here are some of the most popular things to ingest between New Year’s Eve and the end of New Year’s Day in order to receive your cosmic blessings. 

Greens (turnip, collard, cabbage, etc.)

Greens are green, money is green and cabbage leaves look kind of like money, so the thinking is that if you eat some cabbage, collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens or any other greens you can scrounge up, you’ll be monetarily rewarded in the New Year. And the more you eat, the larger your fortune. In the American South, they do collard greens; in Denmark, they eat stewed kale with sugar (Grønlangkål); and in Germany, they eat sauerkraut, wishing the ingesters as much money as there are shreds in the ’kraut.

Black-eyed peas and other legumes

Like greens, black-eyed peas also look like money — coins to be exact — and they swell when you cook ’em, so eating them is supposed to expand your wealth. Incredibly popular in the South, black eyed-peas are rumored to have become lucky and valuable during the Civil War after Union soldiers neglected to burn them with the rest of the Southern food crop, assuming they were animal feed. One of the most popular dishes in which they’re served is Hoppin’ John, a rice dish with some kind of pork. Eating the leftovers (called Skippin’ Jenny) on Jan. 2 shows your frugality and increases your chance of prosperity. Other types of legumes are eaten across the world for similar coin-looking reasons. In Italy, they serve Cotechino con Lenticchie, or lentils and pork sausage, and in Hungary, they serve lentil soup.


In many countries, the New Year’s meal features some type of pork because pigs symbolize progress and luck; they move their snouts forward when rooting for food. Pork also tends to be fatty, and the fat represents abundance, prosperity, wealth, etc. And the pig doesn’t have to be served as meat. In Austria, they eat suckling pig on New Year’s Day on a table decorated with little mini pigs made of marzipan (called Marzipanschweinchen in Germany), chocolate or some other sweet. 


A popular tradition in Spain is to eat 12 grapes (known as “las doce uvas de la suerte” or “the twelve grapes of luck”) during the 12 strokes of midnight — particularly in synch to the televised chimes from the clock turret of Real Casa de Correos in Madrid. Each grape represents a different month. If you get a gross grape for your sixth grape, then your June might suck; finish your twelfth grape before the end of twelfth stroke, and you’ll have luck in the New Year. Canned fruit brand Cofrusa evens sells cans of 12 grapes to make shopping for luck easier.


The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the Chinese word for “abundance,” linking fish with luck. But even if you don’t understand Chinese, fish is still lucky; they generally swim forward, travel in abundant schools, their scales look like coins and they’ve been served during feasts since forever because they were easy to preserve and transport before refrigeration (and the Catholic church wouldn’t let you eat red meat on holidays). In China, they serve the entire fish, head to tail; in Poland, they eat pickled herring at midnight; and in Germany, people hide carp scales in their wallets and around their homes on New Year’s for wealth.


In Asian countries, they eat long noodles on New Year’s Day to symbolize long life. These longevity noodles must be eaten without being broken or shortened and are frequently served in stir-fry. In Japan, they serve up buckwheat soba noodles or Toshikoshi prepared in a soup.

Bad foods

And with the good comes the bad. Eating chicken or lobster on New Year’s will bring back luck because chickens scratch the ground backwards and lobsters swim that way. Actually, don’t eat anything with wings because they could fly away with your luck (despite the fact that they would be cooked and dead before you try to eat them). © 

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