Almost every country has at least one special food that is eaten on New Year’s Eve or in the first days of the New Year that is thought to bring luck, wealth or success in the year to come. Whether you normally believe in these traditions or not, eating lucky foods might work out to be in your favor.
The Japanese celebrate the New Year in high fashion. The celebration lasts 3 days, beginning January 1st, and is declared with the unbending practice of everyone getting a rest, even the cook. All the foods are prepared in advance so that the cook only has to defrost, reheat and serve.
Some of the foods which the Japanese believe to be particularly lucky include soba noodles. These are long noodles that should be sucked up and eaten without breaking them to ensure long life, and mochi rice, which is a rice that is more sticky than ordinary rice and is pressed into cakes which are either broiled or eaten in soup.
The Greeks have a tradition of eating Vasilopita (a cake baked with a coin inside). This cake is baked with one coin inside of it. The person who bites into his piece of cake and finds the coin will be blessed with good luck in the year to come.
Leave it to the Italians to bring in the New Year in an extremely interesting way. They toss old things out of their windows. Old things are tossed out in an effort to make room for the new and for luck to enter their households and lives in the year to come.
The Italian people eat a dish called cotechino con lenticchie: pork sausage served over lentils. This dish is eaten because of the presence of fatty rich pork sausage and lentils in the dish. Cotechino sausage is a symbol of abundance because they are rich in fat, while lentils symbolize money (being both green and coin shaped). This dish packs a double whammy of luck!
You won’t believe what food is lucky in Spain grapes! It is reported that at the turn of the century, Spain experienced a gigantic grape harvest. The harvest was so grand that the year is marked as a time of great luck.
Spanish people bring in the New Year by eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight. At each strike of the Plaza del Sol clock (which is broadcast to the entire country much like we broadcast the Time Square clock), another grape is eaten in celebration of lucky years past and in hope of a lucky year to come.
You may have wondered why champagne is considered the worldwide drink of choice on New Year’s Eve. Although it originated in France, it is enjoyed the world over. It is reported that champagne production houses dried up after World War I and were not revived until after World War II when ordinances were passed to set the price of champagne grapes to ensure farmers a steady living.
It has been said that when we drink champagne, we are toasting the past, our strength to survive, as well as hoping that the richness of the champagne’s bubbles will influence the year to come.
Let’s not forget about the United States of America. If you were asked what one food was needed on the table for New Year’s Day, many say black-eyed peas. Black-eyed peas, also called cowpeas, are thought to bring wealth because they look like little coins. In addition, when they are cooked, they swell, which is a sure sign of prosperity.
There is a saying that dictates eating habits in the U.S. on New Year’s Day: “Eat poor on New Year’s, eat fat the rest of the year.” A traditional New Year’s meal included ham, cornbread, black-eyed peas and collard greens. Both black-eyed peas and collard greens are considered lucky additions to the dinner table.
Collard greens are considered an essential part of this menu because they were considered to be lucky due to the fact that they are green, like greenbacks money!
If you haven’t traditionally had collard greens in your menu, here is a recipe for Southern Collard Greens. They not only are nutritious, but will provide you with a goldmine of nutrition, such as vitamin A and C, potassium and calcium and are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories.
If you would like more information on Greens, contact me at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in Miller County at 870-779-3609. I will gladly send the pamphlet, Enjoy Arkansas’ Fresh Greens.
May you and your family have a prosperous New Year!
Southern Collard Greens
7 1/4 cups water
1 3/4 pounds ham hocks
4 3/4 pounds collard greens, rinsed and trimmed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the water and ham hocks in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to very low and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Add collard greens and hot pepper flakes to the pot. Simmer covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add vegetable oil, salt and pepper to taste and simmer covered an additional 30 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings.
For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We’re online at [email protected], on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.
Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.