From hoppin' john to champagne: 9 New Year's Eve food superstitions

By Christie Zizo, Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Saturday, December 31, 2016, 12:06 AM EST

With a new year comes new resolutions -- health-related ones, often.

But first, one more day or two of eating.

No doubt there are some dishes you cannot start the new year without, and whether you believe the superstition behind that food, the history behind those culinary new year traditions is fascinating.

Hoppin' John -- This Southern tradition of black-eyed peas brings luck to eaters. One legend originates in Louisiana, from the French Creole word for pigeon peas. Others tie it to the Carolinas, with African and French roots. Either way, culinary historians can trace the dish as far back as the early 1800s. Sometimes you add a pork of some kind (ham hocks or salt pork), also for luck, sometimes greens, symbolic for money or wealth and rice, which can mean abundance. The peas themselves, as a round food, represent coins.

Lentils -- Round, green lentils are traditional in many different cultures, for luck and prosperity. Italians, for example, have a dish called cotechino con lenticchie, sausage and green lentils, eaten just after midnight. Germans and Brazilians also eat lentil dishes.

Grapes -- Eating 12 grapes for each chime of the clock at midnight has Spanish origins. Grape growers allegedly began the tradition as a way to get rid of a surplus of grapes. In addition to each chime of the clock, each grape also represents a month of the year. If you get a grape that is sour, it may mean that month will be a rough one. So be sure to make a note.

Champagne -- Drinking on New Years is a European tradition from the 1800s, but they didn't always drink champagne or bubbly exclusively until the late 1800s, early 1900s. Champagne was something that rich people drank. So if you were trying to project wealth and luxury, drinking champagne was a great way to do it.

Noodles -- Many Asian cultures serve long noodles during New Year's celebrations as a hope for long life. In Japan, it's customary to eat soba noodles. Eating the buckwheat noodles date back to the 1600s.

Pork and other meat -- Many New Year's dishes use pork -- from the aforementioned Hoppin' John to pork and sauerkraut to lechon. The reason is pigs root forward in the mud, a sign of the future. They can also represent the bounty of the land.

Consequently, some cultures stay away from eating beef because cows always stand still, and eating poultry because the birds always "scratch backwards" with their feet. Most fish are OK, though some traditions caution against eating bottom dwelling fish because they can hold you down. The Japanese also eat shrimp for long life.

Greens -- As mentioned before, greens are said to represent paper money. Collards, turnip greens and kale are popular in America. The Germans like their sauerkraut. The Danish eat their kale with cinnamon and sugar.

Grains -- Rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat. Grains represent abundance because they swell when cooked. Southerners add rice to their Hoppin' John. In Norway, rice pudding is traditional.  

Cakes and anything round -- Round foods symbolize coins and the wish for wealth. Cakes and sweets for New Year's can be found all over the world.  In Greece, a special sweet bread called vasilopita is cut at midnight. Each family member gets a piece, and the person who gets a coin inside their piece will be guaranteed good luck. Donuts-type cakes are popular in Eastern Europe, the Netherlands and Holland. And in Denmark they eat kransekage, a marzipan layer cake that looks like a cornucopia (the horn of plenty).

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