Ring-shaped cakes and other baked goods symbolize wholeness and the completion of a full year’s cycle. In Greece, there’s vasilopita, a round, anise-flavored cake with a coin hidden inside; in Mexico, they make rosca de reyes, a sweet, ring-shaped bread that’s studded with dried fruit and baked with a tiny figurine of baby Jesus inside; and a long-held Dutch tradition is to feast on puffy, doughnut-like fritters called oliebollen, which are filled with apples and raisins and dusted with powdered sugar.
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Because dumplings resemble the gold ingots that were once China’s currency, eating them represents the hope for an auspicious new year. If you’re making them yourself, however, look out — superstition warns against counting the dumplings, for fear that it will lead to scarcity in the new year. Another ancient belief that doubles as a teaching moment: Any bad feelings between family members must be resolved before the dumplings are cooked; if they’re not, evil spirits will steal them.
Don’t do meat? Try these vegetable dumplings.
In China, a whole steamed fish symbolizes a long and healthy life, and oysters and prawns are lucky, too. In Poland, one serves pickled herring at midnight; in Italy, dried salt cod stars in a variety of holiday dishes; and in Germany, you simply can’t celebrate the day without noshing on carp, which often appears in a stew. Germans take it one step further, though — many tuck a few carp scales into their wallets afterward to keep from running out of money in the following year.
Check out the five safest fish for your family to eat.
In Spain, New Year’s Eve means one thing: a whole lot of grapes. At midnight, everyone from grandmothers to teenagers starts popping the fruit into their mouths one-by-one, in time with the local clock tower’s chimes. The saying goes that if you manage to swallow all 12 before the last stroke of midnight, you can count on a prosperous year. Today, the custom is also going strong in Portugal, Cuba, Venezuela, and a handful of other countries.
Try making this grape ice cream with the leftovers.
The leaves of greens are thought to resemble folded money and supposedly portend a rise in economic fortune. In Germany, sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) is a New Year’s must; in Denmark, it’s kale sweetened with cinnamon and sugar; and in the U.S., sautéed collard greens are an integral part of a New Year’s meal. In Iran and other countries that celebrate the Persian New Year, fresh herbs, which represent fruitfulness in the coming year, find their way into rice dishes and oven-baked omelettes.
Kale chips are a healthy (and lucky) finger food.