Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Year’s Food Traditions

By Jeff Burns

Just as with Christmas,  New Year’s  Day is celebrated with traditional foods brought by the immigrants who settled America.   While there are many varied traditions, they all center around eating foods designed to bring good fortune in the coming year, and there are three commonly recurring themes:  some kind of greens (symbolizing both wealth and longevity), some food to represent gold or coins (money), and pork.

Why these foods?  Of course, a major reason is the time of year.  Green leafy vegetables like collards, turnips, and cabbage are in season.  Beans and peas, dried after summer harvest, are readily available.  Farm families regularly marked the beginning of winter as “hog-killing” season.  Also, pigs are associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat.  Some traditions hold that pigs symbolize good fortune because they are constantly rooting forward, in new directions, in contrast to fowl’s habit of scratching backwards.

Across the South, people celebrate with collard greens, turnips, mustard, or cabbage.   These days, maybe even a little kale will sneak in.  To symbolize money, southerners eat some kind of pea, usually black-eyed or field peas.  Hopping John, a dish combining peas and rice and cooked with hog jowls or salt pork, has been around at least since the early 19th century.  Its origins are unclear, but it was probably brought from Africa or the Caribbean; the name may be a corruption of “pois a pigeon”, French for pigeon peas, common in the Caribbean.  Hopping John was a staple among plantation slaves, especially in coastal South  Carolina.  Cornbread’s golden color also represents fortune.

German settlers brought their love of pork to Pennsylvania and the Appalachians.  They also brought sauerkraut, which is the traditional New Year’s green in Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.

Fish is the protein of choice for some.  In the Pacific Northwest, salmon may be on the menu.  Some northern Europeans prefer herring or carp.  Chinese families often celebrated with a whole fish, symbolizing abundance in the coming year and long noodles, representing long life.

Whatever your tradition, enjoy!

Here are a couple of links:

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