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December 30, 2009 > Celebrate New Year's Day

Celebrate New Year's Day

By Suzanne Ortt

Happy New Year, Auld Lang Syne and Feliz Nuevo! Around the world, many different cultures welcome the New Year on January 1. Traditions, involving lucky foods, are diverse. Let's take a global tour.

We begin with black-eyed peas, my family's 'must have' food on New Year's Day. The most popular variety in the U.S. is the California blackeye, pale colored with a dominant black spot. A typical January 1 meal in the American South is black-eyed peas cooked with a ham hock or hog jowl, collard, mustard, or turnip greens, cornbread and pepper sauce. The peas swell when cooked and look like coins, representing good monetary fortune. Greens also are symbolic of money and pork symbolizes forward progress because pigs move forward when foraging.

This practice of New Year black-eyed peas began after the American Civil War. The Union Army destroyed all crops, livestock, and stored foods. However, field peas and corn were not touched because the troops considered them 'animal fodder.' Hence black-eyed peas are considered lucky.

Hoppin' John is a related dish popular throughout the southern United States. This is a dish of rice and black-eyed peas flavored with pork and served with cooked greens and cornbread. A game is then played; children are to take one bite each and then hop around the table on one foot. If successful, good luck is prophesied for the whole year.

Variations on cooked greens differ from country to country. Danes eat stewed kale mixed with cinnamon and sugar. Germans prefer sauerkraut or cabbage. One superstition is the more greens you eat, the larger your fortune.

Fish is common in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Usually eaten at midnight, herring is the choice in Poland. Danes eat boiled cod and Italians prefer dried salt cod. In Sweden a smorgasbord of varied fish dishes is typical. Herring is eaten In Japan for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest.

Serving pork extends beyond the United States. Roast suckling pig, symbolizing progress, is popular in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, and Hungary. Other specialties are pig's feet, pork roast, and sausages. Pork's rich fat content symbolizes wealth and prosperity.

Sweets are not neglected. Greeks celebrate by baking vasilopita. A coin is inserted in the sweet dough before baking. The first slice is St. Basil's; then slices are given to all guests in order of age. Whoever gets the coin will have good luck. Sweden, Mexico, and Norway have similar customs. Donuts, commonly served in several European countries, are significant because the round shape represents eternity. Holland has 'ollie bollen,' a puffy doughnut pastry filled with apples, raisins and currants.

A unique custom, and my favorite, is found in Spain and Mexico and happens at midnight. Each recipient eats 12 grapes, one for each month, and makes a wish with each one. The grapes symbolize good luck.

Traditions vary. If you or your family does not already have one, here is a chance to begin. No matter how you celebrate, good luck to you in 2010!

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