When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, you can hear the bottles of bubbly popping open for miles around. But in my house, that’s not the case. Instead, you’ll hear a “squish,” and then you’ll probably hear me choking. Why? Because of a bizarre Italian food superstition that promises good luck and good fortune. This got me wondering: Are Italians just food-obsessed (very possible), or is this something that happens the world over?
After some conversations around the office, I learned that almost everyone here has some kind of food and drink tradition on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to ensure good luck for the following year. Click through to see our roundup from Refinery29 staffers about foods and drinks that bring them all the luck from many corners of our wide world — Happy New Year!
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Italy I will purposefully not stand near my mother at midnight on New Year's Eve because she will excitedly force a huge spoonful of lentils down my throat, which inevitably chokes me. This upsets me every time, but she is unapologetic, because according to the Italian tradition (superstition?), it brings me good luck and cash-money in the new year. I now position my little brother next to her, so he gets her first “lentil punch” (the more people she force-feeds, the weaker she gets). She also absolutely insists that we wear at least one item of red clothing “for good luck.” She even has a basket of red handkerchiefs at the door for anyone who forgets her “red rule.”
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KoreaIn Korea, the Lunar New Year’s tradition is to eat Tteokguk, a rice cake soup. Tteokguk has symbolism and multiple meanings, even down to how the rice cakes are cut. The rice cake itself is made using a rice grain called “garaetteok,” which is a long, cylinder shape — this symbolizes a healthy, long life. The way the rice cake is cut represents the shape of the old Korean coin currency; it is eaten to help accumulate wealth and financial abundance. Finally, the white color of the rice cake represents new beginnings.
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Spain and Puerto Rico Spaniards will eat 12 grapes in the first 12 seconds of the new year. Each grape is meant to symbolize luck for all the coming months. R29 staffers from Spain also told me they get money under their dinner dishes, or a gold ring in their champagne, for good luck. Somewhat similar, in Puerto Rico you are supposed to eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. One Puerto Rican R29 staffer said that while you’re supposed to eat the grapes over the course of the last minute of the year, in their family they just shove them all in their mouths at 11:59 p.m. (“more fun that way!”). Also, an important side note: If you are lucky enough to be in Puerto Rico over the holidays, be careful not to stand under anyone’s window at midnight — some people might throw a bucket of water out the window to ward off evil spirits!
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The Philippines In the Philippines, it’s customary to eat 12 round fruits for good luck. So that means on New Year’s Eve, you’ll have to save room after the holiday feast for foods like one grape, one watermelon, one orange, etc. I'm thinking that major food comas ensue.
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Southern U.S. On New Year’s Day throughout the South, it’s traditional to eat collards (for money) and black-eyed peas (for prosperity). The greens and peas are usually mixed with rice in a dish called Hoppin John.
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GermanyGermans eat marzipan pigs to symbolize good luck in the new year and at Christmas. This dates back to the medieval ages, when having a pig during the lean winter months meant you were lucky. You had meat! Pigs have since become a symbol of luck in Germany. In fact, the German expression to say “I’ve been lucky” is literally translated as “I have had a pig!”
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Norway In Norway, everyone eats rice pudding on New Year’s with the goal of scoring the bowl that contains one almond inside — whoever finds that coveted almond will get good luck for the year!
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Holland At the stroke of midnight, you’ll find the Dutch eating Oliebollen, which literally translates to oily balls. (Did you just immediately think of this? HA!) This tradition could be tied to an old belief of a flying, sword-wielding goddess who would cut open the belly of whoever she came across. The oily balls in people’s bellies would make her sword slide off.
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Scandinavia Apparently in Scandinavia, what’s good for your fisherman is good for you: That’s why everyone eats pickled herring on New Year's Eve. A plentiful herring catch means the fishermen were lucky — and, presumably, that means you didn’t go hungry.
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Greece If you’re traveling to Greece over the holidays, you may have noticed that people hang pomegranates in their homes. Those fruits aren’t decoration, but rather a symbol of abundance and good luck. Once it’s midnight, those babies are torn down and smashed right on the front doorstep.
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JapanIs it hard to eat a soba noodle without breaking it? I don’t know for sure, but I guess it must be somewhat challenging, because Japan has a New Year’s Eve tradition around just that. Apparently, soba noodles represent long life, so whoever can consume an entire soba without breaking it will have a long life, and luck for the following year.