New Year meals in different cultures

A New Year is celebrated at different times in different cultures. Everywhere, though, New Year means happy festivities and favourite foods. In some cultures, people eat certain “lucky” foods at New Year because this is meant to bring them success and prosperity.


China and several other Asian countries celebrate the lunar New Year, which falls towards the end of January or in early February.  “Lucky” foods include dumplings, rice cakes, fish and moon cakes.


On 31 December, the Japanese eat a bowl of long soba noodles known as toshikoshi soba, or “year-passing” noodles. Their extra length symbolises longevity. People try to eat each noodle without breaking it to ensure lasting luck.


Since ancient times, Hogmanay (31 December) has been a major feast that can last several days. According to the “first-foot” tradition, the first visitor to step into the house can bring good luck for the new year. A dark, handsome man carrying a piece of coal, whisky, Scottish shortbread and a black bun – rich, dark fruitcake in pastry – brings the best luck. The visitor gets a small glass of whisky in return. The Hogmanay meal includes haggis served with mash and carrots, and maybe venison pie. Shortbread, with or without cheese, toasted oatmeal and Scottish raspberries and cream satisfy the sweet tooth. And of course, plenty of whisky washes down the food.

Southern USA

Black-eyed peas are a popular New Year’s dish in the American South. They are served with cooked greens or as an ingredient in a dish of rice, peas and bits of pork. Corn bread is believed to bring prosperity in the coming year, because yellow corn kernels look like gold.


Popular dishes include steamed rice with chopped raisins and carrots, often served with lamb or other meat and vegetables. Lamb kababs are another favourite, usually served with naan (flat bread) used to scoop up the food. Kebabs are rarely served with rice. Lamb chops, ribs, ground beef and chicken kababs are also favoured.


Irish households may leave buttered bread, or bread and butter sandwiches, on the doorstep on New Year’s Eve for children to collect. Banging a stale loaf of “Christmas bread” against the house is supposed to scare off bad spirits.


In Germany, Ireland and parts of the United States, cabbage is associated with good luck. People traditionally eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Eve to bring wealth and good fortune in the coming year.


People in Turkey and other Mediterranean countries eat pomegranates for luck in the new year, because pomegranates have been associated with abundance and fertility since ancient times.

The Netherlands

Oliebollen, small doughnuts studded with dried raisins or currants, are a typical Dutch New Year’s item.


People in Spain and parts of Latin America eat grapes. Many believe that they must eat 12 grapes in the first 12 seconds of the New Year to ensure 12 lucky months.

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