Every January 1 since I’ve been married (22 years), I have made my husband’s traditional family ‘good luck’ meal of pork with sauerkraut and dumplings. When growing up, my mom (being from the deep south), made fresh black-eyed peas with stewed tomatoes with homemade cornbread to bring on the good fortune. Traditions vary from culture to culture, but I was really surprised to find there were lots of similarities between them, six to be exact: cooked, leafy greens, fish, pork, legumes, grapes, and cakes. Here is why they are believed to be good luck foods.
1. Leafy greens. Cooked greens like cabbage, kale and collard greens are eaten every year on New Year’s day because when cooked, the leaves resemble folded money, therefore are symbolic of economic fortune. While yummy and good for you, don’t eat too much. They are cruciferous vegetables and are known to cause gas, bloating and abdominal pain if eaten in excess (in other words, you might fart a lot).
2. Fish represent a progression in life, a ‘moving forward’ if you will (since fish swim forward, not backwards). Charms and amulets depicting fish have been worn for ages to assure that the wearer will never be hungry. Eating fish on New Year’s Day is also thought to provide the same assurance. While fish is loaded with nutrients and wonderful Omega-3 fatty acids, make sure you eat ‘wild caught’ fish, and not farmed-raised as the latter are fed grains, which make them rich in Omega-6 fatty acids (unhealthy and believed to be pro-inflammatory).
3. Pork in many cultures is another symbol of moving forward as pigs push forward when foraging. In many cultures, the rich, fat content of pork signifies wealth and prosperity. While pork is a great source of vitamins and minerals, it is high in fat which could make your cholesterol levels shoot through the roof. There is also some evidence that uncured bacon, sausage and ham may be good for your diet, whereas other types of pork, not so much. Read here and decide for yourself.
4. Legumes are symbolic of money because their when cooked, they swell, and so are eaten with financial rewards in mind. Italians and Germans tend to pair legumes with pork to double the luck. The tradition in the south to eat black-eyed peas traces back to the legends during the Civil War when folks in Vicksburg, Mississippi discovered black-eyed peas after the town ran out of food. It’s been considered a lucky food ever since. While an excellent source of protein and fiber, if eaten too much at one time, they may cause cramping, flatulence and other digestive issues. May not be a great combo with cooked green leafys like cabbage.
5. Many cultures believe that eating 12 grapes at midnight, one for each stroke of the clock and one for each month of the year, will bring good fortune. The goal is to swallow the last grape before the last stroke of midnight, but some cultures, like Peruvians, eat a 13th for good measure. While grapes are rich in vitamin C and fiber, they can make you spend a lot of time in the bathroom if you eat too many. Always wash before eating and choose organic if available.
6. Like placing a coin in a new handbag or in a loafer, many cakes and breads made on New Year’s Day house a coin or trinket meant to bring the recipient good luck and prosperity. Hopefully the person who finds the good luck piece doesn’t choke on his good fortune and you know…have bad luck.
What is your “lucky” New Year’s Day food?