4, 3, 2, YUM! New Year's Food Traditions Around the World

New Year's Traditions Around the World - Illustration

Food is so elemental to our well-being and to our sense of abundance, connection, and celebration, it's no surprise that many New Year's traditions revolve around food and eating. From lucky bites to delicious symbols of fresh beginnings, there's a huge variety of tasty, quirky, meaningful, and superstitious New Year's food traditions around the globe. These are a few of our favorites:

12 Grapes or 12 round fruits

In Spain, the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve marks the time to eat twelve grapes, each consumed with the chime of the clock. These grapes, symbolizing luck for the twelve months ahead, are savored for prosperity, happiness, and good fortune in the coming year. Some variations of the superstition say you should make a wish with each grape, while other versions hold that each grape symbolizes one month, so a sour grape indicates that will be a challenging month. 

A similar tradition in The Phillippines involves eating 12 round fruits to celebrate the new year. Pineapples, apples, mangos, and bananas are popular choices to symbolize abundance and prosperity in the coming year, but the specific fruits are up to you. The most important part of the tradition is that the 12 fruits are spread on the table to be shared, and then eaten by the family–never wasted. As is often the case with food traditions, the most important part is how food brings us together. 

Symbolic money foods: Black-eyed peas, collared greens, and cornbread

Rooted in the traditions of enslaved West Africans before the Civil War, it’s now a widespread practice throughout the southern US to consume black-eyed peas or Hoppin’ John, on New Year’s Day. These legumes signify good luck and fortune for the upcoming year because they resemble coins, symbolizing wealth and abundance. If you’re hoping for more of that folding money, eating greens may be the ticket. Collard greens is also meant to invite prosperity and financial success, with the vibrant green color and flexible leaves representing paper money. Finally, cornbread’s color symbolizes the wealth associated with gold.

Make New Year's Hoppin' John with this recipe

Ring-shaped Foods to Ring in the Year

Around the world, the consumption of ring-shaped baked or fried foods symbolizes things coming full circle, signifying the cyclical nature of life. Eating ring-shaped foods is a popular way to reflect on the past as we celebrate the coming year. The Dutch have Kransekage cake, but stateside we might opt for donuts, bagels, or even onion rings if sweets aren’t your style.

Hanging Onions

Speaking of onions, in some parts of Greece, particularly in the countryside, it's customary to hang an onion on the front door of the house on New Year's Eve. The onion's ability to sprout and grow symbolizes the regeneration of life and the anticipation of a fruitful year ahead. As the onion sprouts, it signifies the growth and prosperity that the household hopes to experience in the upcoming year.

Hidden Items to Bring Good Luck

In various cultures, hiding a good luck trinket inside food is a New Year’s tradition. As the dish is shared with family and friends, the hidden coin or trinket brings particularly good fortune to the person who finds it. Greece has vasilopita, Bulgaria has an egg and feta stuffed filo dough version called the banitsa cake. People write good fortunes, wrap them in tin foil, and then tuck them in the dough before baking. Meanwhile the Scandinavian version hides a single whole almond within rice pudding. It may also be called a King Cake and eaten either throughout the holiday season, or on Ephiphany (on January 6). In some traditions, the person who finds the trinket--in addition to having extra blessings in the coming year--must also supply next year’s cake.

Smashing Pomegranates

A Turkish tradition holds that smashing a pomegranate on New Year’s Eve will bring good fortune in the coming year. One variation of the superstition adds that the more seeds that burst out, the more good fortune you will have. 

Toshikoshi Soba Noodles

In Japan, eating toshikoshi soba noodles on New Year’s Eve signifies longevity, resilience, and letting go of the past year’s hardships. Toshikoshi noodles are buckwheat noodles served in a hot dashi broth and are often topped with toppings like minced green onions, tempura, or nori. The long noodles represent a wish for a long and prosperous life, while the resiliency of buckwheat plants symbolizes an eater’s own resilience in the coming year. The thin noodles are also easily cut or chewed, which represents a clean break and easily leaving behind the previous year.

Marzipan Pigs

In Germany, a New Year’s gift of a marzipan pig or “Glücksschwein” (lucky pig) represents good luck and fortune for the coming year. The association of pigs with luck dates back to the Middle Ages, and even the German idiom for good luck, “Schwein haben” literally translates as “to have a pig.” Today marzipan pigs are sold in Germany around the New Year and are given as a way to wish others well in the coming year.

However you choose to celebrate, we wish each of you a New Year filled with joy, prosperity, and abundance. May the traditions we cherish bring luck, happiness, and positivity in the year ahead!