For most of us, the traditional way to welcome in the New Year is a toast of Champagne and a kiss for a loved one.
But for millions of revelers around the world, New Year’s Eve is a time to eat symbolic treats in the hopes of bringing luck, good health and prosperity in future times. The foods vary from culture to culture but all are said to bring good fortune and help let go of the old year.
For example, in Japan and other Asian countries, long noodles is the favored custom. The long strands of toshikoshi soba symbolize long life and are served in a sweet and savory broth to be slurped down without breaking the strands.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch love deep fried Oliebollen. They’re like small doughnuts filled with raisins and currants.
The Portuguese and Spanish will eat 12 grapes at midnight. Each grape represents a month of the year and depending on the sweetness or sourness of each grape, how the future will develop. If, for example, the sixth grape is sour, then June might not be a good month.
Staying in Europe, other countries like Germany and Ireland eat green leafy veggies like kale, spinach and cabbage. The color resembles paper money. The more you eat, the more wealthier (and healthier) you’ll allegedly become.
Germans, along with the Scandinavians, will eat briny fish like pickled herring. The silvery color reminds them of coins for prosperity.
Any ‘round’ fruit is also a common food to eat at New Year. Oranges and apples, for example, are the shape of coins. A gift of 12 pieces of fruit is considered a lucky number, again representing the months in the New Year.
Pomegranates are customarily eaten in Turkey. The color represents vitality and good health and the sheer number of round seeds indicates prosperity.
In the US, because of its multicultural citizenry, probably all of the above food and customs are celebrated at New Year. Foods include black-eyed peas, pork, fish, sauerkraut and cornbread and events like Times Square, championship sports games and TV shows are enjoyed.
‘Hogmanay’ is what the Scots call New Year’s Eve celebrations — celebrations that go back centuries. Hogmanay is a very big deal in Scotland. It’s the most important day in the festive calendar and signifies the beginning of winter and Yule and lasts right through Jan. 2 — a public holiday in Scotland.
First-footing in Scotland is customary. Someone tall, dark and handsome and bringing gifts of food and coal, is preferred to be the first person to enter your home after midnight. The gifts include whisky and Black Bun. Black Bun is a type of rich fruit cake completely wrapped in pastry. Also in Scotland, it is customary to let the house fires die and then open all the doors and windows to let the bad spirits out.
In the outer-lying islands of Scotland and Scandinavia, ‘Up Helly Aa’ is celebrated. Up Helly Aa is a fire festival to mark the end of the Yule season. There’s usually a costumed torchlit procession at the end of which the torches are thrown into a replica Viking longship until it’s burned to a crisp.
And let’s not forget to thank Robert Burns, Scotland’s Poet Laureate, for “Auld Lang Syne.”
It’s sung around the world at the stroke of midnight every year. The tune is so well known, it was used by the Maldives and South Korea for their national anthems and Japanese department stores use it at closing times to remind customers it’s time to leave.