Tomorrow is the last day of 2020. Yes, it’s finally the end to a seemingly unending year overstacked with tragedy. But instead of mustering all of our energy to a big ol’ good riddance, tomorrow night offers the opportunity to enter 2021 with a more positive spirit. This New Year’s Eve might not (definitely should not) be the party we are all used to, but that doesn’t mean the celebratory traditions have to end. Whether you’re at home with your immediate family or Zooming with a group of friends, let’s cheers to 2021. For enhanced festivities, take a cue from other countries around the world and bring food into your new year rituals.
Superstition is the way. To ensure good luck in the new year, Spaniards eat 12 green grapes just after the clock strikes midnight. Well, stuffing might be the more appropriate term. Each clock chime signals you must eat another one— one grape for each month of the year. Failure to do so means misfortune in the year ahead. How hard can it be? One NPR writer explains: “After 15 years living in Spain, I have learned that the only way to finish all 12 is by concentrating on the chimes and ignoring the rest of the surrounding commotion.”
The Netherlands- Oliebollen
Oliebollen, AKA “oil balls,” are a wintertime confection especially meant for celebrating New Year’s Eve. These Dutch donuts were reportedly first eaten by Germanic tribes in the Netherlands during the Yule (Decemeber 26- January 6). Tales say a belly full of deep-fried dough saved people from Germanic goddess Perchta. When she tried to cut open bellies, her sword would slide right off the body because of the fat from the oliebollen. If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth while ringing in 2021, all you need is standard baking ingredients and about 2 hours of time.
Japan- Toshikoshi Soba
Here we have another tradition for good luck in the new year. However, unlike Spain’s grapes, do not be caught consuming these noodles as the clock hits midnight. It’s bad luck! This custom is said to have started about 800 years ago when a Buddhist temple gave soba to poor people on New Year’s. And because soba are firm and easy to break while eating, they symbolize “breaking off the old year.” You can eat soba either before or after the new year begins; that decision varies by region.
Rituals bring a certain kind of comfort, which may be why so many New Year’s Eve traditions are rooted in ensuring 365 days of good luck. In Italy, that means lentils. In ancient Rome, wishes of luck came via pouches of the coin-shaped legume. The savory dish is meant to be eaten after midnight. Lentils can be cooked in a variety of ways, but often are the foundation of a savory soup.
Does anything sound more scrumptious than a Bulgarian cheese pie? Don’t worry, no need to scarf down a slice within the first twelve seconds of the year. This traditional New Year’s Eve dish is also known to be eaten on Christmas Day to break their vegan fast (which is observed during the 40-day Advent period). To set up the year ahead, Bulgarians bake coins or good luck messages (wrapped in foil) into the pie. If you’re a fan of feta cheese, this may be the dish for you.
Similar to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras King Cake, a coin is hidden in vasilopita and whoever’s slice has the coin will have good luck for the rest of the year. Its origins go back many centuries and honors Basil the Great. To celebrate, the Greek new year’s cake is cut after everyone wishes each other a good new year at midnight. The recipe requires standard baking ingredients (butter, sugar, salt, etc.) and is specialized with citrus zest. A thick vanilla glaze seals the cake.