Many families, including mine, have a tradition of serving certain foods on New Year’s Day to bring good luck in the coming year.
My grandfather on my mother’s side managed a circus and it is widely known that circus people tend to be much more superstitious than most. When we visited my grandparents, we always had to exit the house out the same door we had entered (so as not to have bad luck). We never put a hat on a bed (bad luck again).
There was a lot of knocking on wood, as well, to ward off misfortune if something negative was mentioned. And we always ate cabbage on New Year’s Day for good luck.
My mom always served cabbage with a coin cooked in it. All of us were supposed to have luck just by eating the cabbage, but the person who was served the portion with the coin would have an extra dose of it.
I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of the boiled cabbage I was served growing up. I much prefer it mixed with other ingredients.
The wonton recipe I’m sharing here even gets my kids to willingly eat cabbage. It’s made with a copycat Bonefish Grill restaurant sauce called “Bang Bang” sauce that they use on their famous shrimp dish. It has become a New Year’s tradition in our house.
A quick internet search yielded lots of other foods that people eat for good luck throughout the world.
I learned my family was not alone in serving cabbage to welcome in the new year. In addition to Appalachia, many families in Germany, Ireland and other parts of the United States do this as well.
Pork is a favorite, particularly in the Midwest, on New Year’s — as it is said pigs root ahead as they eat, not backward as some other animals do, and this is considered a symbol of progress.
The phrase “eating high on the hog” came from the choice cuts from the loin, shoulder and upper leg, which used to refer to cuts only eaten by the wealthy and elite. Eating these choice cuts of pork such as tenderloin and ham have historically been thought to bring good fortune in the coming year.
In the South, black-eyed peas are a favorite good luck food made on New Year’s. A couple of years ago I baked black-eyed peas (which are actually beans) into a hot cheesy Mexican dip that I’m sharing here.
This again a great disguise if you or your kids aren’t fond of black-eyed peas. As to why they’re considered lucky, one theory dates back to the Civil War era. Black-eyed peas were said to be left behind during war raids on crops. They became a symbol of good fortune as some southern families supposedly survived by eating them.
Collard greens are sometimes served in the South on New Year’s as well, and the theory is it has to do with them resembling money or bills. Eating them, of course, is thought to lead to increased wealth in the new year. Cornbread is another southern tradition, and my research says its gold color brings hope of prosperity in the new year.
Pomegranates are thought to bring good luck in Spain. Tradition says that a pomegranate must be smashed across the kitchen floor on New Year’s Day. The more the fruit pops open and the more seeds that spill out, the more luck you will have in the coming year.
In Turkey and other Mediterranean countries, this fruit has always been a symbol of fertility and abundance and is also often eaten on New Year’s Day. My mom’s good friend Judy Smart used to bring this pomegranate salad to us when she and her husband would join us at Christmastime. The fabulous red and green salad is now a staple on our holiday menu.
The Spanish also eat grapes for good luck. According to legend, you should count the months as you eat 12 grapes, one for each stroke of midnight, and if any of them are sour that month might be a particularly rough one for you.
The sweeter the grapes, the better the year you would expect to have. I have a friend who soaks grapes in prosecco overnight then rolls them in sugar before freezing them to enjoy on New Year’s Eve.
In many Asian cultures, eating noodles will bring you good luck. Eating longer noodles is said to lengthen their life and tradition says that you should not break the noodle from your plate to your mouth.
Fish is known in many countries to bring prosperity to a new year. Both the fact that they swim in one direction (forward), and that they swim in schools, which symbolizes abundance, makes them lucky.
Of course, if you don’t want to have good luck in the new year you can disregard all this information. But why not cover all your bases and eat some lucky foods anyway? With the pandemic still running amuck, we might just be fixing all these recipes in our house for New Year’s, knock on wood.