What does the world eat on New Year’s day? A peek into few traditions

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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New Year Celebrations Image
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New Year’s Day is all about food.

As the new year arrives around the world, special cakes and breads bring joy, as do long noodles (representing long life), field peas (representing coins) and herring (representing abundance). The specifics may vary, but the general theme is the same which is to usher in a year of prosperity, enjoy food and drink.

Read on to know some of the New Year’s food traditions popular throughout the world.

South America

Hoppin John Food Image

A major New Year’s food tradition in the South America is Hoppin’ John, a dish of flavored field peas or black-eyed peas (symbolizing coins) and rice, frequently served with collards or other cooked greens (as they’re the color of money) and cornbread (the color of gold). The dish is said to bring good luck in the new year.

Different folklore traces the history and the name of this meal, but the current dish has its roots in African and West Indian traditions and was most likely brought over by slaves to North America.


Grapes Image

Traditionally, the people of Spain watch a broadcast from Puerta del Sol in Madrid, where New Year’s partygoers gather in front of the square’s clock tower to ring.

Those in the square and those watching at home engage in an unusual annual tradition i.e, at the stroke of midnight, they eat one grape for every toll of the clock bell. Some also prepare their grapes by peeling and seeding them to make sure that when midnight arrives, they will be as good as possible.

It was at the turn of the 20th century that the tradition started and was allegedly introduced due to a bountiful harvest by grape farmers in the southern part of the country. The tradition has spread to many Spanish-speaking nations since then.


Tamales Food Image

Tamales, corn dough stuffed with meat, cheese and other delicious additions and wrapped in a banana leaf or a corn husk, make appearances at pretty much every special occasion in Mexico. But the holiday season is an especially favored time for the food.

In many families, groups of women gather together to make hundreds of the little packets with each person in charge of one aspect of the cooking process to hand out to friends, family and neighbors. On New Year’s, it’s often served with menudo, a tripe and hominy soup that is famously good for hangovers.

In Mexico City, steamed tamales are sold from vendors on street corners day and night.


Food Oliebollen Image

Fried oil balls, or oliebollen, are sold on street carts in the Netherlands and are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve and at special festive fairs. They are doughnut-like dumplings, created by dropping a scoop of dough into a deep fryer spiked with currants or raisins and then dusted with powdered sugar.


Food Soba Noodles Image

In Japanese households, families eat buckwheat soba noodles, or toshikoshi soba, at midnight on New Year’s Eve to bid farewell to the year gone by and welcome the year to come. The tradition dates back to the 17th century, and the long noodles symbolize longevity and prosperity.

In another custom called mochitsuki, friends and family spend the day before New Year’s pounding mochi rice cakes. Sweet, glutinous rice is washed, soaked, steamed and pounded into a smooth mass. Then guests take turns pinching off pieces to make into small buns that are later eaten for dessert.

Poland and Scandinavia

Food pickled Herring Image

Because herring (fish) is in abundance in Poland and parts of Scandinavia and because of their silver coloring, many in those nations eat pickled herring at the stroke of midnight to bring a year of prosperity and bounty. Some eat pickled herring in cream sauce while others have it with onions.

 One special Polish New Year’s Eve preparation of pickled herring, called Sledzie Marynowane, is made by soaking whole salt herrings in water for 24 hours and then layering them in a jar with onions, allspice, sugar and white vinegar.

Norway and Denmark

Food Krasikage Image

Kransekage, literally wreath cake, is a cake tower composed of many concentric rings of cake layered atop one another, and they are made for New Year’s Eve and other special occasions in Denmark and Norway.

The cake is made using marzipan, often with a bottle of wine or Aquavit in the center and can be decorated with ornaments, flags and crackers.

The most popular tradition

Cake Image

A new year cake is the tradition across countless cultures. The Greeks have the Vasilopita, the French the gâteau or galette des rois. Mexicans have the Rosca de Reyes and Bulgarians enjoy the banitsa.

Most of the cakes are consumed at midnight on New Year’s Eve, though some cultures cut their cake on Christmas or the Epiphany, January 6 and include a hidden gold coin or figure, which symbolizes a prosperous year for whoever finds it in their slice.