Food: Celebrating New Years Eve across the globe
You wouldn’t think grapes had much to do with New Year’s Eve but don’t tell that to the Spainards.
While there are many ways to ring in the New Year across the globe, it seems that certain foods are one of the binding forces symbolizing the passage of time and ensuring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. However, the types of food consumed on this holiday often range from the comforting to the outright absurd.
Take for instance the tradition in Spain of eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. Seems this custom started in 1909 when some grape growers from the Alicante area came up with the “12 Grapes” as a way to sell more after a big harvest. The tradition goes that when the time reaches midnight on New Years Eve and the church bells ring, 12 grapes are to be eaten at each chime, which apparently is hard to do without laughing. However, if the grapes are successfully eaten, good luck will follow for the next 365 days. In addition, salads are also served featuring grapes, in an effort to harness in good luck for the upcoming year.
Another odd tradition takes place in Ireland, where one uses a large loaf of Christmas bread and hammers it against the closed doors and windows of their home to drive out any upcoming misfortune. If the loaf survives this hammering, and can be eaten, all the better for thwarting bad luck.
In Germany and Austria celebrating the coming of the New Year includes eating glucksschwein which are pig shaped candies made from marzipan. In fact, any food that can be molded into a pig will do to ensure good luck in the coming year.
Those celebrating in Japan make long soba noodles from buckwheat flour which symbolizes longevity and prosperity. For some families a lavish dinner is prepared that includes boiled seaweed, mashed sweet potato with chestnuts, fish cakes, sweetened black soybeans, and simmered burdock root.
In Poland and many Scandinavian countries pickled herring is eaten on New Year’s Eve. One special Polish New Year’s Eve preparation is called Sledzie Marynowane, and is made by soaking whole salt herrings in water for 24 hours and then layering them in a jar with onions, allspice, sugar and white vinegar. Scandinavians will often include herring in a larger midnight smorgasbord with smoked and pickled fish, pate and meatballs.
One tradition I find amusing takes place in Belarus. Unmarried women participate in a game in which piles of corn are placed in front of each one. A rooster is released, and whichever girl’s corn pile it goes to first will be the first to marry in the coming year. While this leaves little for the young women to eat, the rooster is extremely happy.
As Americans we may think these traditions and foods are a strange way to bring in a new year, however, our own custom of watching a ball drop at the stroke of midnight might seem that way to others across the globe. And, admittedly, I have been to New Years feasts in the past that have certainly featured some unique foods depending on the host.
So I guess stuffing down a few grapes at midnight isn’t all that strange and I would certainly entertain the idea of sitting in front of a pile of corn waiting for a rooster to determine my future as far as romance goes. 2014 is looking better already.
New Years Eve Grape Salad
2 lbs. green seedless grapes
2 lbs. red seedless grapes
8 ozs. sour cream
8 ozs. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract, to taste
1 cup brown sugar, packed, to taste
1 cup crushed pecans, to taste
Wash and stem grapes. Set aside. Mix sour cream, cream cheese, white sugar and vanilla by hand until blended. Stir grapes into mixture, and pour in large serving bowl. For topping: Combine brown sugar, and crushed pecans. Sprinkle over top of grapes to cover completely. Chill overnight.