Eleven years ago, my husband and I did the fancy meal to ring in the new year. We made reservations at a trendy restaurant, dressed up, and expected a lovely meal. We arrived and were told we would be seated in their basement, which we didn’t know existed. They took us outside and down some stairs to a dark room with no windows. It felt like we had been cast aside for more important diners, as if we weren’t worthy of gracing their main dining area. Then the service was painfully slow (they had all those other more important people in the actual restaurant to serve first, I guess) and lasted FOUR HOURS. We decided then and there that we were finished going to restaurants on New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day. The extra costs, limited menus, and possibility of being banished to the basement just didn’t seem worth it.
We’ve never been big partiers, so New Year’s Eve has always been very tame in the Stockton house. Pre-kids, we sometimes got together with family for dinner and game night. Once the kids arrived, we stuck to our bedtime routine – I mean, I was not about to suffer the repercussions of keeping two toddlers up extra late just because the year was changing! We’ve gotten party hats and noise makers and celebrated well before midnight with our little guys. Check out some other kid-friendly ideas here.
But this year, I’m ready to pull out all the stops in the hopes that 2021 will be kinder to all of us. So bring on the superstitious traditions. I’ll eat nothing but black-eyed peas for a week if that will guarantee a better year.
As I’m homeschooling my kindergartners, I decided to turn this into a learning opportunity. We are reading about how different countries celebrate the new year, and if it’s reasonable, we will make it happen (although I’m still probably going to avoid keeping the kids up until midnight). So let’s take a trip around the world, shall we?
There’s a German phrase that translates to “having a pig,” which stems from medieval times when farmers with many pigs were said to be having a good year. Another theory is pigs represent progress because they always move forward and eat by pushing food in front of them. Pigs are considered good luck, so the Austrians eat marzipan pigs for treats.
The Brazilians are all about lucky number 7. Eat seven pomegranate seeds to keep the purse full and seven grapes for overall luck. Done.
After a meal of boiled cod with mustard (I’ll skip that part, thanks), the Danes eat a tower of marzipan wreaths called Kransekage, and they really look impressive. You can even order one from Larsen’s Bakery in Seattle. Now, I love marzipan but sure don’t know how to make these and don’t want to buy a $100 cake plus shipping, so I’m thinking an almond Kringle from Trader Joe’s might be a nice substitute.
The Danes also throw old plates against the doors of their friends and families to ward off bad luck. The more broken dishes you find outside your house, the better your luck. While this sounds sort of cathartic, I’m going to pass on this one. We have enough messes in our house already. I DO like their other tradition of jumping off chairs at midnight to “leap” into the new year.
The Greeks welcome the new year with a sweet yeast bread called vasilopita. A coin is baked into the bread, and the person with the coin in their slice will have good luck in the coming year.
The Greeks also hang onions on the front door, and parents wake their children on New Year’s Day by tapping them on the head with the onion. The onion symbolizes rebirth, because onion bulbs can sprout and grow layers even when uprooted. I can hang an onion to usher in the new year, but if by some miracle my children are still sleeping when I get up, there’s no way I’m waking them.
Another tradition is to smash a pomegranate against the front door for a year of abundance. The more seeds that scatter, the better the year. Considering I am incapable of opening a pomegranate without making my kitchen look like a crime scene, I’m not so sure about having that bright red juice all over my door. But my boys and I all love pomegranate and will gladly eat this to welcome the new year.
This one might be my favorite, and I’ve already told my kids about this, much to their delight. The Irish bang bread against the walls and doors of their homes to chase away bad luck. After 2020, I am so ready to arm my family with baguettes to smack against the wall. Bad luck, be gone!
I’m not gonna lie, I was hoping this would say something like eat a vat of carbonara and pizza, and your year will be fabulous. Instead, the Italian tradition is eating lentils. Their round shape resembles coins and symbolizes luck and prosperity. The lentils are often paired with pork.
Eat a bowl of hot soba noodles just before midnight. The Toshikoshi soba name actually means “year-crossing” noodle. The long noodles can be cut easily and represent letting go of one year to begin the next.
Eat 12 round fruits. Choose any fruits you want – oranges, melons, grapes, pomegranate – if it’s round, eat it!
The Poles eat pickled herring. The silvery fish represents money, but this is a hard pass for me. My parents used to buy a jar of herring in cream to eat for the new year, and I always thought it looked disgusting. To be honest, I have no idea if I ever actually tried it. Jarred fish is a no-go, as far as I’m concerned.
For good luck, throw pails of water out the window to wash away the old year. They also like to buy new yellow underwear and change into it at midnight. I think we’ll stick to the water and suspect my kids will love this.
As the clock strikes 12, eat a grape with each chime. It’s bad luck if you don’t finish all 12 before the last chime, but good luck all year if you succeed. (The worrier in me will not let my kids race to swallow grapes – choking hazard alert! But I can make sure they eat 12 grapes, no problem.) Do you think we need to eat exactly seven grapes for Brazil and then another set of 12 for Spain, or could they overlap? Adding lots of grapes to the grocery list.
Dropping a dollop of cream on the floor is said to bring a year of overflowing abundance. Does that mean the ridiculous quantities of food my kids drop is actually lucky?
Sprinkle salt on your doorstep to promote peace and prosperity. Much easier than scrubbing pomegranate juice off the door later.
And of course, in the United States (especially the south), many people ring in the new year with black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. Until now, I didn’t know these are all meant to represent money. The peas represent coins, greens represent paper money, and the cornbread’s golden color also symbolizes fortune.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy all the round fruits, some marzipan treats, pork, lentils, and soba noodles. If you pass my house and see onions, broken dishes, and pomegranate stains, just keep on moving.
Here’s to better luck in 2021!