Happy New Year!
I thought it would be fun to write a post about New Year's foods. But I don't know anything about traditional New Year's foods, anywhere, so I headed over to the Food TimeLine to try to get a handle on the subject.
I found, to my surprise, that there are few easy generalizations about New Year's foods. It appears that, for every people and region that *has* a New Year's tradition, the "tradition" is to eat foods that are considered lucky or likely to bring the eaters prosperity. However, the foods that meet this criterion vary substantially from region to region.
One common thread is that, for many peoples, pork is a "lucky" New Year's food. For Germans and Swedes, cabbage is too. In New England, they cover both bases by eating pork with sauerkraut (made from cabbage, of course). Some peoples go for color symbolism; they eat gold-colored foods on the theory that doing so will bring them gold. According to the Food TimeLine, this is true in Peru and China (though the Chinese New Year, of course, falls in February, not now). Lentils are a good luck food in Brazil; Food TimeLine notes that the ancient Romans also treated lentils as a lucky New Year's food--possibly because they look a bit like coins. And many places have some kind of pastry or cake that is unique to New Year's. You can read Food TimeLine's full page account of New Year's foods here.
The message is clear. The New Year, just like Christmas and Thanksgiving, is an eating holiday, and the trick is not to turn it into an over-eating holiday. So I wish everyone who reads this post prosperity and good food, and the strength of will to enjoy both without overindulgence.