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New Year's Day Foods for Luck

new years-ham and beansPeople around the globe plan for the coming year, eager to get off to the best possible start! Many people will “eat for luck”, those special foods that, by tradition, are supposed to bring them good luck. Throughout history, people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Day, hoping to gain riches, love, or other kinds of good fortune during the rest of the year.

For people of several nationalities, ham or pork is the luckiest thing to eat on New Year’s Day. It started in Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in a forward direction. Maybe people liked the idea of moving forward as the new year began, especially since pigs are also associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat. However the custom arose, Austrians, Swedes, and Germans frequently choose pork or ham for their New Year’s meal. They brought this tradition with them when they settled in different regions of the United States.

New Englanders often combine their pork with sauerkraut to guarantee luck and prosperity for the coming year. Germans and Swedes may pick cabbage as a lucky side dish, too. In other places, turkey is the meat of choice. Bolivians and some people in New Orleans follow this custom. However, other people claim that eating turkey, goose, or chicken on New Year’s Day will result in bad luck. The reason? Fowl scratch backward as they search for their food, and who wants to have to “scratch for a living”?  New years-cookies

Frequently, fish is the lucky food. People in the northwestern part of the United States may eat salmon to get lucky. Some Germans and Poles choose herring, which may be served in a cream sauce or pickled. other Germans eat carp. Sometimes sweets or pastries are eaten for luck. In the original colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, the Dutch settlers still enjoy the sweet pastries.

In some places, a special cake is made with a coin baked inside. Such cakes are traditional in Greece, which celebrates Saint Basil’s Day and New Year’s at the same time. The Saint Basil’s Day cake (vasilopeta) is made of yeast dough and flavored with lemon. The person who gets the slice with the silver or gold coin is considered very lucky!

new years black eyed peasBlack-eyed peas are expected to bring luck, and they are part of one of New Year’s most colorful dishes, called Hoppin’ John, which is eaten in many southern states. Hoppin’ John is made with black-eyed peas or dried red peas, combined with hog jowls, bacon, or salt pork. Rice, butter, salt, or other vegetables may be added.

In Portugal and Spain cultures, as the clock strikes midnight and the new year begins, people in these countries may follow the custom of eating twelve grapes or raisins to bring them luck for all twelve months of the coming year!

Champagne has become popular drink to toast the new year in America. An early Dutch treat, especially in New York is ‘New Years Cakes and Cookies’, these thin crisp sugar cookies were traditionally flavored with caraway, lemon and sometimes cider. Here is the simple recipe from 1862: “Three quarters of a pound of butter and a pound of sugar beat to a cream. Add three eggs, one teacupful of sour milk, one teaspoonful of saleratus (chalk-like powder used as a chemical leavener to produce carbon dioxide gas in dough such as baking soda), half a cup of caraway seed, a little mace, and flour to make it stiff enough to roll thin; cut in rounds. Roll this cake with a little fine sugar instead of flour, and bake about fifteen minutes.”

So for New Year’s Day eat and drink and make big plans for the new year.

Related genealogical blogs:

New Years Day Postcards

Holiday and Heritage


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