The turn of the calendar year marks a time of reflection and hope. Our thoughts are drawn to the past–bidding farewell to ones we have lost, renewing old friendships, reflecting on our experiences and memories of the past year. Then we turn towards the future—with plans, resolutions, hopes, and dreams. This liminal time between years is naturally filled with superstition and symbolism. While many in America might limit their New Years traditions to an embrace at midnight and a toast of champagne, around the world there are countless examples of allegorical practices that call for luck and prosperity in the coming year. Not surprisingly, many of these traditions involve food!
In the United States, the most pervasive of New Years’ foods is Hoppin’ John–an earthy mix of black-eyed peas, pork, and collard greens. Every element of Hoppin’ John is symbolic: the pork for luck and prosperity, field peas simultaneously representing coins and humility, and collard greens—they are leafy and green much like dollar bills. Of course, this dish would not be complete without a side of cornbread, representing gold and riches. During the 1800’s black-eyed peas (or field peas) were considered food fit for only animal consumption. When Union troops swept through the south and ravaged Confederates’ food supply, they left little more than greens and field peas. Thus, many southern families avoided starvation through eating black-eyed peas and hearty braising greens. If the thought of black-eyed peas turns you off, have no fear—tradition dictates that this dish is eaten sparingly.
Pigs are universally symbolic of prosperity—their round bellies evoke fortune as is evident in the idioms hog-heaven and high-on-the-hog. Pigs root relentlessly ahead when they eat, as opposed to chickens or turkeys which scratch backwards, resulting in porcine symbolism for progress. In Austria the pig makes an appearance in the traditional Marzipanschwein—tasty marzipan treats formed in the shape of pigs. Or cook some pork with lentils to double-down on your gambit for luck. Lentils represent riches thanks to their resemblance to Roman coins.
Lucky dishes for the new year are not limited to the savory. In Spain, 12 grapes are consumed at midnight—one with each toll of the bell. This tradition originated at the turn of the 20th century as a wish for a bountiful grape harvest. Legend goes that each grape represents a month: a sweet grape foretells a lucky time; sour grapes do not bode as well. In general round fruits are lucky with their resemblance to coins, and ring-shaped foods represent the year coming full circle.
In Japan, Toshikoshi Soba (from one year to another) is the traditional dish at the new year. Long buckwheat noodles are symbolic of long life and resilience, and therefore are lucky—but only if they are eaten without chewing or breaking. Now is the time to practice your slurping technique!
Cowpeas or marzipan pigs, champagne or buckwheat noodles–food traditions abound at the turn of the year. Whether you indulge in the symbolic dishes of the past or create your own New Years tradition, we wish for you peace and prosperity, fortune & luck. At the Fallon Food Hub, we are here to help with your New Year’s dish—come in for local pork, black-eyed peas, and organic greens, or just to share your stories of the past and wishes for 2018!
As the poet Edith Lovejoy Pierce wrote, “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”