I wrote the following for my January 2011 newsletter, but thought it was appropriate for today.
Like most holidays, New Year's Eve/Day has a number of traditions associated with it. And like many traditions, food has a starring role. Interestingly, cultures around the world see many of the same foods as lucky while heading into the New Year. Here are just a few.
Legumes: Beans, peas and lentils are considered lucky at the New Year all over the world because of their resemblance to coins. In Italy, Germany, Brazil, Japan and many other countries, eating things such as Lentil or Split Pea Soup or Sausage and Green Lentils at midnight brings good luck. In Southern US, Hoppin' John, a dish made with black-eyed peas, is eaten. Most believe that eating 1 pea for each day of the year brings the most luck.
Fish: Since the Middle Ages, cod has been a traditional New Year's dish--probably because it was easily salted and preserved for eating during the winter. The Danes eat boiled cod; Italians, baccala (dried salt cod); Poles and Germans eat herring and carp at midnight. The typical Swedish New Year's feast is a smorgasbord of fish dishes. In Japan, lucky fish dishes include herring roe (for fertility), shrimp (for long life) and dried sardines (for a good harvest--dried sardines were once used as fertilizer in rice fields).
Greens: Greens are considered a sign of financial fortune in the New Year--simply because the leaves look like paper money when folded up. Again, many cultures eat greens for luck--kale with sugar and cinnamon for the Danes; collards in the Southern US; sauerkraut for the Germans (and PA Dutch). Many believe that the more greens you eat, the bigger your fortune will be in the coming year.
Cakes/Baked Goods: Like most celebrations, baked goods are a part of the New Year's festivities all over the globe. Donuts, pastries, special breads and cakes--too many to mention--hold special meaning for the coming year. Many traditions hide trinkets, coins or whole nuts in a part of the treat. Whoever gets the piece with the prize in it gets the most luck.
Of course, there are some foods that you shouldn't eat at New Year's. Stay away from lobster, which swim backward and chicken, which move backward as they scratch for food. (Sort of the "anti-pigs" in New Year's superstition beliefs.) In fact, avoid any winged fowl because your good luck could fly away.
Whatever foods you eat for your New Year celebration, I hope it's tasty! Have a fun and safe holiday. And I wish you a healthy, happy and delicious 2012. Enjoy!