If you find yourself being handed a bunch of grapes (12 to be exact) on New Year’s Eve you’re most likely in Spain. This tradition dates back to 1909 when grape growers in Alicante started the practice because of a grape surplus. The custom stuck and now everyone in Spain and neighbouring Portugal eats 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve, one for each month of the year. For many, the goal is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight and it is widely believed that those who don’t eat follow tradition will have a bad start to the year.
Greens, be it sauerkraut, kale or collards are a popular New Year’s food because of their symbolism -the colour green represents money and is thus symbolic of economic prosperity. The Danish eat stewed kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon whilst the Germans consume loads of sauerkraut on New Year’s Eve. So the more greens you eat, the more prosperous (and healthier!) you’ll be!
Austria, Hungary, Spain and Portugal are just some of the European countries that eat pork on New Year’s Day. This custom is rooted in the idea that the pig symbolizes progress because it digs forward with its snout. The pork also signifies wealth and prosperity thanks to its rich fat content. How it is served varies by country. In Germany, you’re bound to have roast pork and sausages while Austrians will have mini pigs made of marzipan gracing the New Year’s table.
Fish is to Europeans what turkey is to Americans on Thanksgiving. Their silvery scales resemble coins which are symbols of wealth and progress. How do you like your fish served? If you like it pickled, head to Germany, Poland or Scandinavia where pickled herring is consumed at the stroke of midnight to ensure a year of bounty. If salted fish is your preference, you’ll want to try baccalà (dried salted cod) in Italy.
What’s a festive celebration without cake? In Europe, cakes and baked goods are commonly served with a special emphasis placed on round or ring-shaped items and it’s not unusual for a special trinket or coin to be hidden inside the cake. The person who discovers the hidden object will have good fortune in the new year. In this instance, special mention goes out to Greece and her vasilopita, a round almond cake baked with a coin inside. At midnight, the cake is cut and the first piece goes to St Basil before the remaining pieces are distributed to guests in order of age.