I am feeling lucky.
Las Vegas is not in my near future or recent past, but I did win big with an auspicious invitation to a special new year’s day dinner. It is not lucky that I got the invitation, although I am thankful to have attended a meal of fortunate foods.
In my house, we generally eat for love, but at this meal, I ate for luck. There is a slew (or maybe a stew) of new year’s dos and don’ts when it comes to the components of the first meal of the year.
In Spain, your first course comes at the stroke of midnight. Eat 12 grapes before the last bell chimes for the new year. Each grape symbolizes a month of the coming year. Note the flavor of each grape — if one is extra sweet or extra bitter, the corresponding month will be the same. This tradition was begun in 1909 by fruit farmers who had a surplus of grapes, and the tradition has not only survived to this day but has been adopted in other surrounding countries.
For your main course, eat pork. Pigs symbolize progress; they root forward and are well grounded. Fish are another acceptable option since their scales resemble silver coins. Put a few silver scales in your pocket to bring riches throughout the year. Sardines, which were once used to fertilize fields, can be part of the meal too, as they will bring a good harvest. Don’t forget shrimps, which promise a long life.
Poultry is a no-no. Never eat chicken, as they scratch backwards and the consumption of this bird could bring setbacks all year and regret for the past. No fowl at all is recommended, because your luck might fly away. The use of the well-known wishbone is an exception to this rule, but don’t eat the owner on the first day. Lobster, however delicious, is not advised either, since they also move backwards and additionally dwell in the dark. To say nothing of their diet (which consists mainly of detritus or dead decaying matter).
Choose wisely your side dishes, as they can bring you wealth. Greens such as collards, kale or cabbage resemble folded money, so the more you eat the better your prospects. It is even okay to make sauerkraut out of your cabbage, as long as you don’t break the long strands when you eat them, because they are thought to bring long life.
Another food of good providence is legumes. Peas, beans and lentils are all good to go. They are associated with fortune since they resemble coins. In the southern United States, Hopping John, made with black-eyed peas, is a traditional new year’s food. Eating one pea for every day of the upcoming year is recommended. This tradition goes back to the Civil War, when Southern soldiers subsisted on cow peas, which were the only thing left after the fields were burned.
Dessert is always a must. Choose round or ring-shaped cakes to symbolize the full circle of the seasons. Another twist is to add a trinket, whole nut, or coin to your batter. The cake is then cut and distributed by age, with the first piece going to St. Basil. Whoever gets the coin or trinket in their piece will have good luck. Sweet fruit can also be eaten, especially pomegranates, whose seeds are luxurious and rich in color and taste.
My new year’s dinner, replete with many lucky foods, will begin my new year right. And since I can’t resist the lure of food lore, the symbolism behind the food made it all the more enjoyable. New year’s resolutions may have a notoriously short shelf-life, but traditions about food have a comforting kind of permanence.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.