How Different Cultures Celebrate the New Year With Food

Eleanor King

Food is an important part of many cultures’ New Year’s celebrations. There are specific recipes and dishes that are traditionally eaten on the first day of the year to bring luck, fortune, and health throughout the New Year. 

China


Lucky food is served during the Chinese New Year dinner on New Year’s Eve, which on the lunar calendar falls on the first day of the month beginning during the new moon and on the Gregorian calendar falls between January 21 and February 21. There are many traditional dishes from across China that bring good luck. Popular options include Chinese dumplings, symbolizing wealth; longevity noodles, symbolizing long life; and glutinous rice cakes, symbolizing a higher income or position. 

Germany 


On New Year’s Day, many Germans and German immigrants eat a rich and sour dish of pork and sauerkraut. Traditionally, pork is enjoyed because pigs look forward when they root for food, as opposed to chicken and turkeys, which scratch backward. The sauerkraut symbolizes riches, and each shred of cabbage in the sauerkraut they eat promises more.

Iran


The Persian New Year, Norouz, falls in the spring and focuses on the idea of rebirth. Many families gather to eat dishes such as the Kuku, a frittata of greens made with fresh vegetables and spices that celebrate the season. Additionally, pomegranates show up on many New Year’s tables across the Middle East as a promise of abundance, fertility, and luck.

Kuku

Italy 


Lentils are an Italian New Year’s staple. These coin-shaped legumes are thought to bring prosperity and luck when eaten on New Year’s Day. They are often served with a pork sausage sliced into medallions, which has fatty, rich qualities and symbolizes future prosperity.

Japan 


On New Year’s Eve, families in Japan gather to eat soba noodles to bid farewell to the past year and usher in a bright New Year. These buckwheat noodles symbolize longevity and prosperity and have been traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve since the 17th century. 

Mexico


In Mexico, families come together to create a meal for New Year’s, which primarily includes tamales. In many families, the women gather together to make hundreds of the little packets to give to friends, family, and neighbors. The symbolism behind the food is more about coming together as a family and marking the special occasion together. 

Russia 


One of the most important snacks served during the New Year’s celebrations in Russia is black and red caviar. While one or the other is acceptable, offering both in silver dishes is traditional. Served with butter, greens, and bread, these caviar sandwiches symbolizes wealth for the coming year.

Spain 


At the stroke of midnight, eating a dozen grapes is a Spanish New Year’s tradition. Each grape is to be eaten during each stroke of midnight. Bad luck supposedly comes to those who do not manage to eat all of the grapes before the final stroke of midnight fades. The 12 grapes represent a month of the year and each brings luck and fortune.

South Korea


Tteokguk is a delicious and flavorsome soup made with broth, disc-shaped rice cakes, meat, and vegetables. It is traditionally eaten by South Koreans on the South Korean New Year, Seollal, which falls on February 16. Since Koreans celebrate growing older at New Year’s rather than on their birthday, one must eat the soup to be considered a year older.

Tteokguk

Southern United States 


In the southern parts of the United States, a traditional New Year’s Day dinner includes black-eyed peas. These symbolize coins, or wealth, which are meant to bring prosperity and luck. Black-eyed peas are frequently served with cooked greens (the color of cash), cornbread (the color of gold), and port fat. A popular dish that incorporates these elements is a Lowcountry cooking staple known as Hoppin’ John.