Let’s Talk Food: New Year’s traditions around the world

As we ring in the new year Friday, usually with some bubbly, it is interesting what people around the world eat to celebrate the coming year.


As we ring in the new year Friday, usually with some bubbly, it is interesting what people around the world eat to celebrate the coming year.

I have written in length about Japanese traditions and eating soba on New Year’s Eve in hopes of a good new year, as well as the tradition of pounding mochi, or “mochitsuki,” just before the end of the year so you would have mochi to display and for your mochi soup, or “ozoni.”

In Spain, eating 12 grapes is a tradition as well as a superstition. Called “doce uvas de la suerte,” or “12 grapes of luck,” this tradition dates back to 1895. One grape is eaten with each toll of the bell at midnight on Dec. 31, which would lead to prosperity.

If you are in Mexico, you also would be eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve and having a gathering of family and friends to make tamales. There would be some “bacalao,” or salted dried codfish, in some water to rehydrate and make into a stew with fresh chiles and green olives. For dessert, “banuelos,” or light, crispy wafers, would be served.

In the Philippines, only one round grape is placed in the mouth at the stroke of midnight. They do eat 12 round fruits, one for each month, for the coming year and eat long pancit noodles for long life. However, Filipinos do not eat fish or chicken, as they are associated with the scarcity of food. Biko, or sticky mochi rice dessert, is made because it is sticky and the hope is that good fortune will stick around for the whole year.

In Switzerland, they drop ice cream on the floor all night for good luck. It sounds wasteful, but when you’re there it is a fun event. Don’t be surprised if you get some ice cream thrown at you, also!

In Ireland, they hit the walls with bread to get rid of evil spirits. First, the house must be clean to start the new year. Then, their Christmas bread is used to hit the doors and walls of the house to chase the bad luck out of the house and invite in the good spirits. Another interesting Irish custom is setting the table for a family member who has passed away during the year and leaving the door unlocked.

In France, Dec. 31 — or “la Saint-Sylvestre,” “le reveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre” or celebrating the last day of the year — is Saints Feast Day, with champagne and foods including goose or turkey, oysters and foie gras. Partying lasts for at least four hours or more, so metros usually are free so people do not drive after a long evening of partying.

Pomegranate is eaten on New Year’s Day in Turkey to bring abundance and fertility in the new year.

In Italy on New Year’s Eve, “cotechino con lenticchie,” or sausage and lentil stew, is eaten to bring good luck as lentils represent money and good fortune. Other Italians might eat “zampone,” or stuffed pig’s trotter. To end their meal, “chiacciere,” or balls of fried dough rolled in honey and powdered sugar, is eaten with a glass of prosecco, or bubbly.

Various cakes are eaten at midnight New Year’s Eve, such as the Greek “vasilopita” or the French “galette des rois” or the Mexican “rosca de reyes” or the Bulgarian “banitsa.”

Austrians serve a suckling pig on New Year’s Eve, and in Poland and Scandinavia pickled herring is enjoyed because of its silver skin.

In Denmark and Norway, “kransekage,” or wreath cake, is a series of concentric rings of cakes layered on top of each other to form a cone-shaped cake and held together with white icing. It is also their traditional wedding cake.

In Estonia, they eat seven, nine or 12 meals on New Year’s Eve, believing that with each meal, the men will become stronger in the new year.

Sauerkraut is eaten in Germany for prosperity. The more strands in the bowl, the more prosperity.

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According to Reader’s Digest, seven lucky foods to eat on New Year’s Eve are:

1. Greens because it resembles money.

2. Beans, like greens, also resemble money or coins.

3. Noodles because they represent long life.

4. Fruits, including pomegranate, because the seeds stand for prosperity.

5. Pork is consumed because pigs are a lucky symbol because they root forward and are round. Traditionally, pork and beans and greens are combined in a dish called Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Eve.

6. Ring-shaped cakes are a symbol of the coming full circle.

7. Fish are believed to be lucky as their scales look like coins.

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A nonfood tradition in Japan is to ring their bells 108 times, matching up with the Buddhist belief that it brings cleanliness.

It also is considered good to be smiling when you bring in the new year as it brings in good luck.

I hope you are smiling on New Year’s Eve.

In Hawaii, our New Year’s celebration could be a mixture of many of the traditions of different countries as our foods are certainly a melting pot.


Happy New Year, and may you all have a great and prosperous one!

Email me at audreywilson 808@gmail.com if you have questions.