Nervous about the New Year? You’re not alone. Around the world, there are countless new year traditions centered on one shared hope: Make it a good year — please. Humanity’s tried-and-true superstitions come in all different forms, from house cleanings, to warding off bad spirits, to eating certain foods or jumping around in a specific way because … well, it could work.
Here’s a look at a few of the most beloved and tastiest New Year’s traditions worldwide.
The tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight originated in Spain and is now practiced across Central and South America and parts of the Caribbean. Each grape represents good luck for one month of the year. But luck doesn’t come easily: Each grape must be eaten with each stroke of the midnight clock — i.e. 12 grapes in 12 seconds — in the first challenge of the year.
Lentils are a New Year’s super food. Italians often pair their lucky lentils with sausage or other pork dishes to signify a bountiful future. Brazilians, Chileans and Nigerians dine on lentils in the hope that the coin-shaped legume will bring good fortune. In Colombia, people fill their pockets with them on New Year’s Eve.
Technically, this Irish tradition doesn’t involve actually consuming the bread. Instead, the good people of the Emerald Isle bang the bread against a wall to ward off evil spirits, and to ensure there will be plenty of bread for the coming year.
In Japan, toshikoshi (year-crossing) soba noodle soup is traditionally cooked up on New Year’s Eve. These prized noodles are long and thin and can be easily cut, symbolizing a clean break with the past year, as well as a lengthy and prosperous life.
Bread or cake with a coin inside
There are many ways to go with this one. There’s vasilopita, a sweet bread made in Greece in honor of St. Basil, or banitsa, a Bulgarian egg and cheese phyllo dough pastry. The only trick is to look out for the slice that comes with the lucky coin baked in. (This tradition is also tied to the Saint Sylvester feast, a Christian holiday that coincides with New Year’s or the days after.)
Anything round or coin-shaped
In Denmark and Norway, people dine on Kransekage or Kransekake, meaning wreath or doughnut cake. This is a marzipan-based tower cake built from stacked concentric rings and decorated with icing. In the Netherlands, oliebollen, or fried doughnuts, are another New Year’s crowd favorite. The pomegranate, with its round shape and seemingly endless seeds of possibility, features in many communities’ customs, including Armenia, Brazil and the Jewish new year. The Swiss drop a dollop of whipped cream on the floor (scandalous!). In the Philippines, people eat 12 round fruits, one for each hopefully prosperous month of the year to come.
Bonus: There are many other new year chances
Dec. 31 may be important for the Gregorian calendar, but the world has many other calendars and new years to celebrate. Here’s just a taste:
The Chinese, one of several cultures to celebrate the Lunar New Year, traditionally ring in the holiday with families preparing dumplings to dine on when the clock strikes. The shape is said to resemble an ancient ingot, thereby symbolizing prosperity. In 2020, the new year will begin Jan. 25.
Head of a fish
The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, literally translates as head of the year. So one tradition is to serve a fish head during the annual feast, in the hopes that in the coming year you’ll be ahead like the head — and not behind with the tail. In 2020, this new year kicks off Sept. 18.
Nowruz, the Persian new year coinciding with the springtime vernal equinox, typically includes a display called a haft-sin — a reference to the lucky number seven (haft) items that begin with the s-sounding letter, sin. One of those items is sprouts, which, along with other green herbs, feature prominently in cooking for the holiday that in 2020 will be March 20.
So, bon appetit to a happy new year, all year long.