Illustrations by Lila Volkas
The dawning of 2013 will usher in an interminable, nerve-wracking 365 days for sufferers of Triskaidekaphobia, an intense fear of the number 13. What better way to maximize your odds in this edgy-numbered year than to consume as much luck as possible in the waning hours of 2012? Although four-leaf clovers and rabbits’ feet are not likely to be listed on the menu, there is a smorgasbord of dishes eaten around the world on December 31 believed to guarantee a new year of prosperity, health and good fortune.
SPAIN – Perspicacious Spaniards gobble 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, one with each chime of the clock. If you’ve got a touch of OCD, pre-seed and peel your grapes, then line them up for a quick countdown.
ITALY – In many lands, eating any food that resembles money is thought to assure a year of bounty. Lentils, black-eyed peas and other beans may not be the spitting image of coins but they swell when cooked and thereby represent an increase in wealth. Italians double their luck with lentils and cotechino, spicy pork sausages. Pork carries a positive connotation for a bright future, since pigs nuzzle in a forward direction. Following this logic, back-scooting lobsters or backwards-scratching chickens and turkeys would make for an unlucky dinner on December 31.
GERMANY – In a country that boasts well over a thousand kinds of sausage, it would be surprising if Germans did not partake in pork for New Year’s Eve. The pig comes in many guises: schnitzel, roast pork or sausages, with sauerkraut as a classic accompaniment. As a group of friends dig into sauerkraut, they may wish each other as much goodness and money as the shreds of cabbage in this traditional fermented dish. Soups with little round things (lentils, peas, beans or carrots) are also believed to bring wealth.
Germans’ passion for pigs extends to sweet ones. Cute, chubby, marzipan pigs Glücksschwein are often exchanged on New Year’s Eve. They epitomize good luck, especially with a shiny coin in their mouth.
DENMARK – If you share my conviction that almond paste makes any meal a celebration, Denmark is the place to go for New Year’s Eve, where marzipan is the key ingredient in a dramatically tall, ringed cake called Kransekage. The cone-shaped pastry is constructed of ever smaller concentric circles and is the classic dessert for weddings, birthdays and New Years. In Denmark and other cultures, stewed kale is served for New Years’ wealth, since the leafy greens resemble folded money.
An old Danish custom is to leap into the new year with your partying friends or family. Just before midnight, everyone climbs up on chairs in their fancy duds, and jumps off into the New Year as the clock strikes 12.
JAPAN – Cleaning the house before New Years in Japan and other cultures lets one start anew with a clean sweep. Homes are decorated with a kagami mochi – an assemblage of two mochi balls (made of pounded rice) topped with a small orange or tangerine – in the style of a snowman. For New Years Eve, the dish to eat is soba, long buckwheat noodles that are slurped without chewing to retain their reflection of longevity. More mochi follow on January 1.
BRAZIL – For the ultimate party, Brazil is hard to top. Join the huge throngs on Rio de Janiero’s beaches (remember it’s summer there) to see the fireworks show at midnight. For extra luck, make 7 wishes as you jump 7 times into the waves. The lucky dish of the day is lentils and rice. Seven is also the number of pomegranate seeds to put in your mouth. But instead of swallowing them, suck the seeds, then wrap the tiny white pits in paper and stick the packet in your wallet to be assured of a year-round supply of money.
For more Brazilian luck, dress in all white on the last day of the year, wear new underwear and sleep on clean sheets. And while you are holding that necessary glass of champagne, take three short hops without spilling a drop, then throw the champagne back behind you to let all that is bad stay in the past. (Don’t worry. The person your champagne lands on is supposed to get good luck too.)
Despite your feast of lentils, pork, pomegranate, kale and soba, if January gets off to a rocky start, don’t abandon hope. You still have plenty of chances to increase your good fortune for the year ahead. Remember several different calendars are observed around the globe, so not all your friends may be celebrating the New Year on Monday night. Grab every opportunity for good fortune by also chowing down on the lucky foods associated with Chinese New Years in February and Persian New Year in March.
HAPPY NEW YEAR and
Godt nytår – Danish
Prosit Neujahr – German
Buon anno – Italian
Akemashite omedetô – Japanese
Feliz ano novo – Portugese
Feliz año nuevo – Spanish
Special thanks to Lila Volkas, for creating the delightful illustrations above. Lila is an artist and photographer. We previously collaborated on a collection of Food Idioms in 17 languages and a story about Parisian Tea salons.