From all things round and edible to avoiding meat and animals that walk backwards, there’s always a way to start the new right.
Words: Maida Pineda
The New Year marks new beginnings. With 365 new days ahead, everyone wishes to usher in the year right. For years, many cultures practiced certain traditions to ensure good luck and prosperity. Circles, dots and all things round are favorable on this day. Many people wear clothes with polka dot patterns to bring in wealth. Others fill the table with round food. For the Chinese, citrus fruits are auspicious. Tangerines and oranges are displayed in homes and given away. The Chinese word for tangerine has the same sound as the word for “luck,” while oranges have the same sound as “wealth.” The large grapefruit called pomelos symbolize abundance as its Chinese word sounds like the word “to have”. In Spain, 12 grapes must be consumed at midnight. One grape is eaten for each stroke of the clock. This tradition originated with grape growers in the Alicante region of Spain in 1909. The Spaniards introduced this practice of eating 12 grapes to celebrate a bumper crop. Not only has this tradition continued in Spain, it also has spread to Spanish and Portuguese colonies such as those in Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and the Philippines. The round theme carries on to cakes and other baked goods around the world. Doughnuts are served in Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands. Holland has a doughnut-like pastry called Ollie Bollen, filled with raisins, apples and currants.
In Scotland, there is a tradition called First Footing. The first person who steps foot in the house in the new year determines what kind of year the residents will have. This special guest brings gifts like shortbread, oat cakes or black bun fruit cake to ensure the household has food throughout the year.
In the Philippines, glutinous rice cakes like Bibingka, Biko, Palitaw, Puto and Sapin-sapin are served, so good fortune will stick throughout the year. Glutinous rice is an essential ingredient for the Lunar New Year. In southern China, Niangao stick rice cake is made on New Year’s Eve and given away to friends and family in the following days. This sticky rice cake’s name sounds like “higher year”. In the Philippines, Chinese-Filipinos present their friends and relatives with a sticky rice cake called Tikoy. In Korea, it is auspicious to serve Tteokguk, a sliced glutinous rice cake soup with meat and seaweed on New Year’s Day.
Fish has been a constant at the New Year’s table. There may be many reasons for this. In the Middle Ages, cod was easily preserved and transported. Fish was also a popular choice for feasts due to the Roman Catholic practice to abstain from meat consumption. Interestingly, fish is the centrepiece of Lunar New Year feasts in Singapore. Yusheng or lohei (in Cantonese), a Teochew-style raw fish salad with strips of vegetables and condiments, is the star of the celebration. With everyone gathered around the table, the leader adds the ingredients, and everyone tosses the salad together using chopsticks while uttering auspicious wishes. In Japan, New Year’s food is a gorgeous production of colourful dishes packed in layers of boxes. This is called Osechi-Ryori, with dishes varying on where the Japanese home is located. This tradition dates back to the Heian period from 794 to 1185. Each dish has a special association to the New Year like Kuro-mame, simmered black soy beans, for good health and TazuKin, dried sardines in soy sauce, for a good harvest. It is taboo to cook meals on the first three days of the new year, hence homemakers must prepare the Osechi ahead of time.
While beans in Japan ensure optimal health, throughout Italy, legumes are eaten for good fortune. Beans, peas and lentils look like coins, hence they symbolize money. In the same way that these seeds swell when cooked, Italians hope their financial rewards will grow as well. For Brazilians, a simple lentil with rice dish or lentil soup is the mandatory first meal of the year. Black-eyed peas are not just a southern staple, but also a New Year’s favorite in the US. If beans resemble coins, cabbage is associated with luck and money. The Irish and some Americans serve corned beef and cabbage, braised pork and cabbage, coleslaw or similar recipes on this special day. In Turkey, pomegranates have long been associated with life, abundance, health and fertility. It is customary in Turkey and Greece to break a pomegranate on the ground at home on New Year’s Eve to ensure a year of plenty.
Wherever your travels take you this holiday season, be sure to try these delicious traditions to bring more luck into your life!
For an extra measure of good fortune, here a few global do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:
• DO put a dime under your plate for prosperity, as they do in the US.
• DON’T eat lobsters, as they walk backwards. This might bring setbacks in the coming year.
• If you don’t wish to dwell on the past or cause regret, DON’T eat chicken for this fowl scratches backward.
• DO as the Filipinos do. Fill your dining table with food at midnight to ensure a bountiful feast throughout the year.