NEW YEAR CUSTOMS
Food has represented good luck since ancient times. Food in the shape of a ring brought the best luck because it symbolized ‘coming full circle’, completing a year’s cycle. What you eat the first day of the year affects your luck the following year. The Dutch still serve donuts. For Latin Americans, the lucky food is grapes, twelve at midnight to ensure a fruitful year. Americans with a heritage of countries where the livelihood was dependent upon the fruits of the sea will fill their tables with the most delectable fish they can obtain to ensure a year of prosperity. Those of German and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry will add pork, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and applesauce for a year filled with health.
In Holland, the Dutch saved up all their broken crockery and hurled it against the doors of their friends. The highest pile in front of a house indicated the most popular family. In Germany, twelve onions were sliced into halves, hollowed out and filled with salt. As the salt dissolved, some onions became drier than others. Each of the twelve onions represented a month to show the wet and dry months for the coming year. In Belgium, the Walloon and Flemish farmers rose with the sun on New Year’s Day and went out to wish ‘Happy New Year’ to their horses, cows, pigs and other domestic animals.
Families in Italy vie for the last helping of ‘lenticcia’ (lentils), in the belief that the one who eats the most beans will be the recipient of the most riches. In Albania, Armenia and Greece a coin is hidden in a cake. The person who finds the coin in his piece will have good luck the next year. And, Americans south of the Mason-Dixon Line usher in the New Year with black-eyed peas and hog jowls for good luck and collard and turnip greens for monetary blessings. Any food that swells as it cooks ensures prosperity for the next year. Japanese-Americans agree with southerners that black-eyed peas bring luck, but also add lobster for health and happiness. If the lobster is damaged in any way, it must be discarded.
People in China drink pepper wine to hail in the New Year. In Jolly Old England, a punch called ‘lambswool’ is passed around in the Wassail bowl. Made from ale or dark beer, sugar, sweet sherry, grated nutmeg and ginger, it is served hot. Mashed, baked apples, eggs, brandy and cider may also be added. Historically, the bowl was passed around to family and friends and then carried from house to house to bring good luck to all who partook of its nectar.
When we entertain friends New Year’s Eve, I incorporate the customs from many cultures just to insure good luck for all. Then I add Deviled Eggs to celebrate the symbol of re-birth and the continual process of the life cycle. I boil the eggs to represent health, and then devil them to add glamour and spice, and finally top them off with the ultimate of eggs, black caviar, for prosperity.
Those who drink an excess of “cups o’ kindness…For Auld Lang Syne” (‘Old Times’ Sake’) or raise glasses too many times in the old Gaelic greeting “Waes Hael” (Wassail) to ‘Be Hearty’ with ‘Good Health’, may not feel so very lucky the morning after. There are several cures for this bit of bad luck. The first and most popular is to partake lightly of a Bloody Mary. It is believed that a small bit of alcohol might help the afflicted “come down” more slowly, and the spices will cushion the over-consumption from the night before. The second solution is to drink eight ounces of Gatorade. The third is to indulge oneself in a large meal that includes several spicy foods. And, in place of, or along with these choices, if you take two aspirin with a long drink of water it might be of some benefit. There are many professional New Year’s Eve toasters who advise taking the aspirin before going to sleep. It is important to note that pain relievers that contain Acetaminophen or Ibruprofen, such as Tylenol, Excedrin and Motrin, might cause liver damage to people who consume alcoholic beverages.
To all who enjoy food, I wish a Happy, Healthy and Joyous New Year, filled with the good fortune of having good friends and loving family.