Fireworks, party poppers, passionate embraces – some things are synonymous with ringing in the new year. But when it comes to marking midnight on this auspicious eve, can cultures from around the globe give us food for thought?
Many of us were pupils in the discipline of eating everything on our plates, while being fervently told not to play with our food. However, when it comes to marking the start of a new year, in many countries, such rules don’t apply. Here are some of the most intriguing New Year festivities from around the world, where food is something to be played with.
A SLICE OF GOOD SPIRIT Bread, particularly home baked, has been a big part of 2020. In Ireland they’ve always known its value. Traditionally, a loaf called ‘Christmas bread’ is hit against a bolted door in the name of the Trinity. The Irish believe banging the doors and walls of their home with bread drives out bad luck and ushers in good spirits. You never know, they might be on to something.
PROPHETIC POTATOES People often think of Ireland at the mention of potatoes but at the end of the year it’s Colombians who know their worth. They place three raw potatoes in a bowl of water under their bed to learn their fortune. One must be completely peeled, a second unpeeled, and the third only half peeled. At 12 o’clock they take out the first one they touch. Unpeeled is the best because it represents abundance, peeled means financial woes await, while half peeled – you guessed it – is a bit of both.
AN OLIEBOLLEN OCCASION In the Netherlands they like to snack on fried balls of oily dough. Known locally as oliebollen, these small dumplings are studded with currants or raisins, dropped in the deep fryer for a few minutes and then served with a coating of powdered sugar. Sold from oliebollenkraams – small food carts or trailers – these mouth-watering snacks are perfect to consume while waiting for midnight to arrive.
CIRCLE OF LIFE In the Philippines, New Year’s Eve food options are generally healthier. People gather with their families around a table filled to the brim with food in a ritual known as Media Noche. They believe anything round brings prosperity, so they wear clothes decorated with polka dots and eat 12 types of round fruit, or sometimes just 12 pieces of the same fruit, at midnight. The circular shape represents coins, and ensures wealth for the future. The fruit must be ripe and super fresh because if it tastes bitter or sour this sets the flavour of the coming year.
SEEDS OF GOOD FORTUNE In Greek Orthodox tradition, pomegranates are a sign of luck, riches and fertility. The second person who enters a house after midnight has to roll one as hard as they can against the door, making the seeds spread as widely as possible to guarantee abundant good fortune. They’ll have been preceded by a first footer, an individual chosen to enter at midnight in the belief they bring luck to the household. Just to be sure, families also eat vasilopita (a sweet yeasty bread) at midnight in honour of Saint Basil.
A SOBA NEW YEAR’S EVE In Japan they pound rice and slurp noodles as part of a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage celebration known as Washoku. This tradition encompasses far more than food and eating. The act of producing, preparing and consuming specific dishes such as rice cakes and noodle soups to eat at midnight represents a respect for nature through the use of natural resources. Some of the ingredients grow wild and everything is locally sourced. Eating Toshikoshi soba, a dish of buckwheat noodles served in hot broth, dates to the 17th century. The long noodles symbolise crossing over from one year to the next. They’re easy to eat, representing the letting go of regrets to start the New Year free from the negativity of the past. Definitely food for thought.
BENEFICIAL BANANAS The New Year in Ethiopia is determined by the stars. Once the date’s set by astrologers, the Sidama people prepare a dish called buurisame, featuring bananas. The bananas are actually Ensete ventricosum (false bananas), a species of flowering plant eaten by 20 million people in Ethiopia. This herbaceous plant is mixed with milk and butter, and was originally prepared by women of the Sidama clan for their yearly visits to in-laws. Now it features as a New Year offering eaten during the Fichee-Chambalaalla festival, promoting the protection of nature, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. Things we could all benefit from.
This year, when the countdown begins, I’ll be with family and friends, whether virtually or in person. Like many people, I’ll be glad to see the back of this year, but nonetheless I plan to see it out in style, like the Spaniards do. At the first stroke of midnight I’ll start eating grapes, one for each strike of the bell. This is harder than it sounds – so a swig of champagne after every mouthful helps. The Spanish believe eating 12 grapes brings luck for the next year, one for every month. After the whirlwind that was 2020, I’ll be making sure to savour each morsel.
Words: Lisa Morrow