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From black-eyed peas to grapes: The symbolism behind New Year’s foods

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The symbolism behind New Year's foods (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • Traditional New Year’s foods from around the world.
  • What they mean.
  • Eat your way to a prosperous New Year.

New Year’s celebrations are rich with traditions, and food plays a central role in many of them.

Different cultures around the world use specific foods during New Year’s festivities to symbolize hope, prosperity and good fortune for the coming year.

From the southern United States to the streets of Spain, the variety of foods and their meanings are as diverse as the cultures themselves.

Ee’ll explore some of the most interesting and widely practiced food traditions that mark the transition into the New Year.

Black-eyed peas for prosperity in the U.S.

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

In the southern United States, black-eyed peas are a staple on New Year’s Day, symbolizing prosperity and good luck.

This tradition dates back to the Civil War era and is often accompanied by dishes like collard greens, which represent wealth.

Eating black-eyed peas, especially in a dish called Hoppin’ John, is thought to bring a year filled with good fortune.

People often eat one pea for each day of the year to maximize their luck.

New Year’s eve foods in the Philippines are round

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

In the Philippines, New Year’s eve foods include having 12 round fruits on the table, each representing a month of the coming year.

The round shape of the fruits symbolizes coins and therefore prosperity.

This tradition is not only a festive display but also a way for families to come together and share their hopes for the new year.

Common fruits used include oranges, grapes, and melons, all cherished for their roundness and sweet taste.

Try lentils for wealth and luck in the New Year

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In Italy, lentils are a New Year’s food tradition, symbolizing wealth and good fortune.

The small, coin-like shape of lentils is associated with prosperity.

Served typically with cotechino, a type of Italian sausage, this dish is a New Year’s staple in many Italian households.

Eating lentils as the clock strikes midnight is believed to bring not just wealth, but also good health for the upcoming year.

Grapes for the 12 months in Spain

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

One of the most unique New Year’s traditions comes from Spain, where eating twelve grapes at midnight is customary.

Each grape represents a month of the year, and it’s believed that the sweetness or sourness of each grape can predict how each month will go.

This tradition, known as Las Doce Uvas de la Suerte, or The Twelve Grapes of Luck, is both fun and challenging, as you must eat all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight.

Families and friends gather together to share this moment, often laughing as they try to keep up with each chime.

Eat fish for abundance

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

In many cultures, fish is one of the traditional New Year’s foods due to its associations with abundance and movement forward.

The shiny scales of fish resemble coins, and they swim in schools which symbolize prosperity.

In countries like Japan and Germany, fish dishes are an essential part of New Year’s Eve dinners.

The type of fish varies by region, but the symbolism of prosperity and abundance remains a common thread.

Eat noodles for longevity in Asian countries

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

In Asian countries, particularly China and Japan, long noodles are eaten on New Year’s to symbolize a long life.

The longer the noodle, the better, as it represents a wish for a long and healthy life.

It’s considered good luck to eat the noodles without breaking them.

This tradition is not only a delicious part of the celebration but also a meaningful gesture of wishing each other a long and prosperous life.

Cake for a sweet year

Rosca de Reyes, new year's foods, mexico
Photo: Shutterstock

In many cultures, cakes and other sweet treats are eaten on New Year’s to symbolize a sweet start to the year.

Greece has a special New Year’s cake called Vasilopita, baked with a hidden coin inside for good luck to the finder.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, a ring-shaped cake called Rosca de Reyes is served.

These sweet traditions not only satisfy the palate but also bring a sense of joy and hope for the year ahead.

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