New Year's Eve

15 New Year's Food Traditions From Around the World

Champagne doesn't count as a food.

December 16, 2020
Photo by Mark Weinberg

We have a very, er, specific New Year's Eve food tradition in my household.

It's an elaborate shrimp tree, and my mother and I spend hours constructing it each year. There's the day-of, panicked search for the correctly shaped and perfectly sized foam cone, which somehow always gets tossed away during the year prior. There's the painstaking affixing of curly kale leaves to said foam cone (once procured), in the style of a full Christmas tree. There's the careful preparation of a perfectly seasoned cocktail sauce. And then, just before our New Year's Eve party starts, there's the pinning of each individual shrimp to the tree, using colorful toothpicks, to look like a wrap-around garland.

While I'd love to say this is a regional Northern California tradition, honed by many generations, I'm pretty sure it's something we just decided to serve one year and loved.

But shrimp trees aside, there are lots of edible traditions around the holiday of New Year's hailing from all over the world. While this list is so far from comprehensive it might as well just say "shrimp tree" for every entry, we've culled together a handful of common New Year's foods eaten around the world, for your reading pleasure—don't forget to add to our list in the comments, please!


1. Spain

In Spain, it's customary to eat 12 grapes right at midnight on New Year's Eve, representing good luck for each of the coming 12 months.

2. The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, oliebollen—which literally means "oil balls"—are consumed on New Year's Eve, which purportedly began as a way to line the stomach with oil as a slick shield against the sword attack of a mythical (evil) goddess. If that doesn't sound appealing, then you haven't seen oliebollen, which are delicious donuts:

3. Japan

If you're in Japan on New Year's Eve, then you might find yourself enjoying a bowl of toshikoshi soba, or "year-end noodles," which are made of buckwheat and lengthier-than-typical soba to symbolize longevity.

4. United States

In the South, New Year's Day celebrators eat Hoppin' John, a meal of black-eyed peas, ham hock and rice (sometimes with greens, too). It's believed to beckon wealth and good luck in the year to come.

5. Germany & Austria

Marzipan pigs—aka, almond paste and sugar shaped into hogs—are gifted around New Year's in Germany and Austria to symbolize good fortune.

6. Italy

Lentils are eaten in Italy after midnight on New Year's Eve, with their coin-like shape nodding to luck and prosperity.

7. France

New Year's Eve in France—known as Le Réveillon de la Saint Sylvestre or Le Réveillon du Nouvel Anoften includes oysters and foie gras.

8. Turkey

In Turkey, some smash pomegranates in the doorways of their homes. As the tradition goes, the number of seeds that fly out predict how much good fortune you'll have in the coming year.

9. Cuba

In Cuba, suckling pig is traditionally served on New Year's Day, as pigs have long been a symbol of good luck.

10. Greece

Vasilopita cake, full of warming spices, is typically baked on Jan. 1 in Greece. Sometimes, a coin (or other trinket of some sort) is hidden inside for one lucky guest to find.

11. Russia

On New Year’s Eve in Russia, children get a visit from Father Frost, who brings gifts while they sleep (no reindeer come with this bearded gift-giver, but Father Frost’s granddaughter, Snegourochka is there to assist.) The real presents, though, are the eats: pelmenyi with sour cream, pickled herring, mayo-slicked Olivier salad of boiled potatoes and eggs, and of course caviar and plenty of vodka.

12. Scotland

In addition to the tradition in many English-speaking countries of singing “Auld Lang Syne,” many folks in Scotland follow the practice of the “first footing,” or “first foot” in the house: apparently, an omen of good luck for the new year is if the first person to step foot in the house after midnight is a dark-haired man (this goes back to days of Viking invasions), bringing, among other symbolic items, shortbread, salt, and whiskey.

13. Chile

Chileans also partake in the Spanish grape-popping and Italian lentil-munching traditions. In Talca, Chile, locals have developed a newer New Year’s Eve practice of visiting departed loved ones at a cemetary after midnight mass, where they listen to music and light candles in remembrance.

14. Armenia

Nothing says “good luck in the new year” like bread, according to some Armenian families, who bake a large, flat loaf known as tarehats, darin, or gata. A coin or a single walnut is baked inside the bread, and whichever member of the family finds the prize trinket in their piece is expected to have the best luck that year.

15. Denmark

No purchased noise-makers needed in Denmark—though you may want to lock the kitchen cabinets if you love your dinnerware: there is a tradition of smashing plates against the doors of your friends and neighbors (apparently a pile of china at your doorstep on New Year’s Day is a sign you’re beloved.) If you prefer to save your plates for food, many Danes also jump off chairs to ensure good luck for the next year.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Some do a version called "skippin Jennie" which is slightly different, but where I grew up near the Florida/Alabama line, it's simply called "black eyes peas" and the lucky part is that the black eyes are supposed to look out for you in the new year and ward off bad luck. Sometimes it's cooked with ham or ham hock, other times bacon or pork chops. There was also a tradition among some where I grew up, to take the silver colored coins that had naturally accumulated in your pocket change, nickles, dimes, and quarters.. and place them outside where they would gather dew to bring money in the new year. Some people say you are then not to spend that money, but the tradition I was taught is that it's fine to spend it.. the important thing is that your silver money collect the morning dew to make the magic work. I have known people from Pennsylvania who follow a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of Pork Roast with Sauerkraut like you describe for Germany. A lovely thing I found, is how well their Pork and Sauerkraut goes with my Black Eyes Peas! Happy New Year!”
— Nicole C.
Comment

What New Year's food traditions do you partake in? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nicole Cooley
    Nicole Cooley
  • Lenahe
    Lenahe
  • Sarah D
    Sarah D
  • AntoniaJames
    AntoniaJames
  • MarieGlobetrotter
    MarieGlobetrotter
Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.

13 Comments

Nicole C. December 27, 2020
I grew up in the deep south in the United States and can give a few details further about "hoppin John" although first thing is not everyone calls it that. Some do a version called "skippin Jennie" which is slightly different, but where I grew up near the Florida/Alabama line, it's simply called "black eyes peas" and the lucky part is that the black eyes are supposed to look out for you in the new year and ward off bad luck. Sometimes it's cooked with ham or ham hock, other times bacon or pork chops.

There was also a tradition among some where I grew up, to take the silver colored coins that had naturally accumulated in your pocket change, nickles, dimes, and quarters.. and place them outside where they would gather dew to bring money in the new year. Some people say you are then not to spend that money, but the tradition I was taught is that it's fine to spend it.. the important thing is that your silver money collect the morning dew to make the magic work.

I have known people from Pennsylvania who follow a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of Pork Roast with Sauerkraut like you describe for Germany. A lovely thing I found, is how well their Pork and Sauerkraut goes with my Black Eyes Peas!

Happy New Year!
 
Nicole C. December 27, 2020
Silly autocorrect.. that's "Black Eyed (not Eyes) Peas"
 
Lenahe December 27, 2020
I don't know who told you about the Danish traditions, but as someone who was born in Denmark and have lived here my entire life, I have never heard of anyone smashing plates on New Years. Could be a regional thing, but certainly not a Danish thing. The jumping thing is true. Another Danish New Year's tradition is eating "kransekage (a type of cake made from almond paste and egg whites) and drinking Champagne at midnight.
 
Sarah D. December 22, 2020
In Korea, they eat ddukgook (aka rice cake soup). It can be made using an anchovy broth or beef broth. I choose to make it ultra creamy and rich by using oxtail and beef bones to make a hearty broth! My kids absolutely LOVE it! We eat this on New Year's and on Seollal (aka Lunar New Year). https://food52.com/recipes/75158-delicious-and-savory-oxtail-soup-with-rice-cakes
 
Sarah D. December 22, 2020
In Korea, they eat ddukgook (rice cake soup) for New Year's! It can be made with an anchovy broth or beef broth. I choose to make it with an oxtail/bone broth to make it ultra rich and creamy. My kids absolutely LOVE this soup and it's so delicious and warm to eat during the winter! We eat it on both New Year's and Seollal (aka Lunar New Year). https://food52.com/recipes/75158-delicious-and-savory-oxtail-soup-with-rice-cakes
 
AntoniaJames December 17, 2020
This is wonderful! Following up on the French tradition noted, here's the customary New Year's Eve toast:

"May God grant us grace to see the next year, and if there should not be more of us, let there not be fewer."

;o)
 
MarieGlobetrotter January 5, 2019
I grew up in Germany and Belgium and those little pigs were very famous in both countries. In Belgium we would receive them at the Saint-Nicolas (6 December) as well. I miss those now that I live in Canada. You can find them but it’s just not the same and they are crazily expensive and not as fresh.

And, I have to add here, German food is underrated. Good bread.
 
Kristan O. January 1, 2019
Another German tradition is sauerkraut, cooked with a pork roast, and served potato dumplings.
 
Kristan O. January 1, 2019
AnorhAnorhe
 
Scot C. January 1, 2019
We usually tempt fate with Cannibal Balls (Raw chopped meat) with pumpernickel bread. Joy of Cooking has a recipe.
 
Scot C. January 1, 2019
https://books.google.com/books?id=C4_5MCUd6ucC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=cannibal+balls+recipe&source=bl&ots=2f8WJvjASR&sig=oWNcC2cveaO7AhX4HFj4x41iI_A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwja-LTplc7fAhXpIjQIHSkiC08Q6AEwBXoECAkQAQ
 
Ttrockwood December 31, 2018
We’re going to need a post about that shrimp tree situation. Sounds like a fun party appetizer any time of year!
 
luvcookbooks December 17, 2020
I would like to see a photo!