Happiness, health and wealth

Many cultures greet the New Year with a feast that symbolically sets the table for the year ahead, reports The Salt. The ingredients in these dishes might reflect cultural variety, but the sentiments behind them are pretty universal. What most people hope for as they sit down for a New Year's meal, it seems, is happiness, health and wealth.


In Denmark they eat a towering cake called kransekage, layer upon layer (up to 18!)of marzipan rings and can be topped with icing, chocolate and almonds, on New Year's Eve. Shaped like a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, it promises a future of happiness and financial success. The cake is adorned with toothpick flags and served with champagne at midnight. And when you're finished with your plate, you can throw it at the neighbor's front door -- a sign of friendship.


After midnight on New Year's Eve, Italians eat coin-shaped lentils with cotechino, a pork sausage that symbolizes the fat of the land. Lentils represent luck and prosperity. Italians throw old possessions out the window after midnight as an out-with-the-old, make-room-for-the-new gesture.


In Japan, the colorful New Year's meal is packaged in special, lacquered boxes. They up ozoni soup, derived from a stock from bonito (fish) and kombo (kelp) and flavored with a Japanese lime. Eaten with the soup is omochi, steamed rice pounded and shaped into cakes that are grilled, and Soba noodles, which represent hope for a long life. Lucky colors, including red, white and yellow, dominate the meal's color scheme: slices of red and white fish paste, pink prawns, cucumber, salmon roe and mandarin oranges.


Filipino families hold a traditional dinner party called Media Noche. Circles are the theme as people show up dressed in polka dots. The shape signifies prosperity. Circular-shaped foods dominate the table with a special focus on fruit, such as grapes, oranges and melons, for good luck. Filipinos actually try to choose 12 different kinds of fruit to put on the table - one for each month in the New Year.


Spaniards  pop 12 grapes into their mouths at midnight - one with each chime of the clock. Each grape represents a wish for happiness and luck for every month in the coming year. The tradition has trickled into other Latin cultures too, with a few modifications. In Portugal, they eat 12 raisins; in Peru they eat a thirteenth grape for good measure.


In the U.S., black-eyed peas, rice, pork, veggies and spices, or "Hoppin' John," is a Southern New Year's stapleon New Year's Day. Hoppin' John usually comes with cornbread and some form of greens: collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, kale or cabbage. The greens here represent money. The meal, derived from slaves in Carolina, is thought to bring a year full of good fortune. And sometimes the meal is cooked with a coin. Whoever ends up with the coin in their dish wins extra luck. 

Good luck to you all in 2012.