9 New Year's Food Traditions That Bring Good Luck

Pomegranate-Almond Toast
Photo: CAITLIN BENSEL

Traditionally, we pour the bubbly on New Year's Eve, but what about the menu? Of course, that depends on where you live. In different cultures, certain foods are believed to bring good luck in the year ahead. These New Year's food traditions from around the world have unique meanings and are well worth considering putting on your menu as you set your intentions for the year ahead.

Whether it's black-eyed peas as part of a New Year's Day brunch or cabbage on New Year's Eve, adding these good luck foods to your party plans are a delicious way to say see-ya to the old year and hello to a lucky new year.

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01 of 09

Pork

Slow-Cooker Barbecue Pork Sandwiches With Crunchy Coleslaw
Romulo Yanes

Ham is often a holiday centerpiece, but pork is specifically thought to bring good luck on New Year's Day. So why is pork a New Year's food tradition?

First, it has to do with the way pigs behave differently than other animals. According to some theorists, while chickens and turkeys scratch backward, a pig buries his snout into the ground and moves forward—in the same direction you want to head in the new year. Another reason is logistics: Pigs are traditionally slaughtered in late fall, which makes pork an ideal choice to set aside for celebrating the new year. Finally, pork (and cabbage) eaten on New Year's is a German and Eastern European tradition brought to America by early settlers.

Start your new year off right with these Barbecue Pork Sandwiches With Crunchy Coleslaw.

02 of 09

Cabbage

Japanese Cabbage Pancake
Jennifer Causey

Right alongside the pork is often sauerkraut or some form of cabbage. This tradition also hails from Germany and Eastern Europe and is rooted in simple logistics: A late fall harvest coupled with a six-to-eight-week fermenting process means that sauerkraut is just about ready when New Year's rolls around.

Cabbage on New Year's is also steeped in symbolism—the strands of cabbage in sauerkraut or coleslaw can symbolize long life, while cabbage can also represent money. Try your luck with this recipe for a Japanese Cabbage Pancake.

03 of 09

Black-Eyed Peas

black eyed pea ribollita
Caitlin Bensel

Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is a time-honored tradition. Black-eyed peas are actually a kind of bean, not to be confused with green peas (or the hip hop band). There are a few different reasons they're associated with luck on New Year's Day.

One theory anchors the tradition in the Civil War, when Union soldiers raided the Confederate army's food supply, leaving behind only this bean. Another theory is anchored in African American history, where newly-freed enslaved people celebrated the January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation with dishes made of black-eyed peas—one of the few foods available to enslaved people. But other theories date the legume's lucky reputation back to Ancient Egypt, suggesting that eating the pea—a vegetable readily available to even the poorest enslaved people—was a way to show humility to the gods. Help increase your chances for a prosperous new year with this recipe for Black-Eyed Pea Ribollita.

04 of 09

Greens

Collard Greens With Bacon
Jonny Valiant

Black-eyed peas naturally go hand-in-hand with greens as a great combination, but greens themselves are known to be lucky for New Year's. So why do people eat collard greens on the New Year?

It's all about the color green, which symbolizes money and prosperity. Also, according to some traditions rooted in the South, greens can be hung by the door to ward off any evil spirits that may come your way. It can't hurt, right? Here is a collard greens with bacon recipe that's simple, delicious, and lucky.

05 of 09

Lentils

Carrot-And-Red Lentil Soup
Greg DuPree

Lentils are a legume that is often served in Italian households, and their legend is rooted in prosperity: The round legumes look like coins. For New Year's Eve, nutritious lentils are traditionally eaten after midnight, along with pork and sausages.

Need more lentils in your life? Consider adding this Carrot and Red Lentil Soup to your New Year's Eve arsenal.

06 of 09

Fish

smoked-sardine-toast-0519din
Greg DuPree

Fish is another common dish on plates around the world on New Year's—especially in cultures close to water. For example, in Scandinavian countries, herring was considered a harbinger of good fortune, especially as the silver-scaled fish called to mind valuable money. Herring, heavily traded, was also essential to the country's prosperity.

Eating herring was a way to hope for a good catch in the months to come because herring had unpredictable migration patterns, and a good year didn't necessarily indicate the next year would be as successful.

Today, herring still symbolizes good fortune, making it an excellent option for a New Year's appetizer. Likewise, pickled herring makes a tasty crostini topper on any crostini party platter. Not a herring fan? Sardines are a member of the same fish family, and are also considered lucky. Try these Smoked Sardine Toasts With Lemon Mayo and Fennel Salad and test this theory for yourself.

07 of 09

Noodles

Spicy Coconut Noodles
Beatriz da Costa

In China, Japan, and many other Asian countries, it's customary to serve and eat noodles on New Year's Day. Their length symbolizes longevity—so make sure not to break or shorten the noodles during the cooking process.

Serve soba noodles, udon, sesame stir-fried noodles, or try this delicious recipe for Spicy Coconut Noodles.

08 of 09

Grapes and Other Fruit

pomegranate and almond butter toast
Caitlin Bensel

In Filipino culture, New Year's Eve is traditionally celebrated with 12 types of fruit. They choose 12 specifically to symbolize each month. Filipinos tend to prefer round fruits, but mangoes and watermelon also make the cut. In Mexico, grapes are eaten at midnight to symbolize the year ahead.

Throughout the world, pomegranates, a symbol of fertility and birth, are eaten at the new year. A jewel-toned slice of Pomegranate-Almond Toast is an easy and delicious way to start the New Year on the right foot.

09 of 09

Vasilopita Cake

Vasilopita (Greek New Year cake)
tolisma/Getty Images

When isn't cake a fantastic celebration option? Many cultures have specific New Year's cakes. For example, the Greeks enjoy a cake called Vasilopita, also known as king pie or basil pie. The cake is made only for New Year's and eaten on New Year's Day (see a Vasilopita from 2017 in the picture). This Greek New Year's cake is sweet, bready, and topped with almonds. Traditionally, the cake is baked with a coin or trinket inside, and the person who gets the treasure-filled slice is supposed to have good luck for the year ahead.

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