Happy New Year

Food traditions abound at New Year, spanning cultures, religions and continents. But one commonality binds them all: They are considered culinary good luck charms, food eaten to ensure good fortune in the coming year, reports the Sacramento Bee.


In many Southern states, families start the year with Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas). Black-eyed peas, which represent coins, are served with collard greens, symbolizing dollars, so the dish is eaten to bring good luck and good fortune in the coming year.


In Italy, lentils are eaten with various types of sausage, such as Cotechino Modena, a sausage made from pork, fatback and pork rind, or Zampone Modena, essentially the same filling but stuffed into a pig's foot. In Spain, it's customary to eat a dozen grapes as the clock strikes midnight.


In Germany, pretzels are a traditional good-luck food. Children even wear them around their necks on New Year's. In Greek households, the lucky bread is vasilopita, a yeast cake that's associated with St. Basil's Day, also celebrated on Jan. 1. A coin is inserted into the cake after it's baked and the person who gets the coin will enjoy even more good fortune.


Lucky foods abound at Chinese New Year celebrations. Lunar New Year, as it is often called, will fall on Feb. 14. The first meal eaten on Chinese New Year is usually vegetarian, out of respect for life. For dinner, whole fish, to ensure abundance, as is meat from land - beef or pork - and the air, usually chicken or duck, is eaten. Noodles represent long life, and lettuce (because the Chinese word for lettuce sounds like the word for fortune) along with tangerines and oranges for luck are consumed.

 Japanese people eat mochi, a rice cake made of glutinous rice that's pounded into paste, and zoni soup, a clear, kelp-type broth, and vegetables, for good health and good fortune.

A time for reflection, "Auld Lang Syne," is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year. At least partially written by Robert Burns in the 1700's, it was first published in 1796 after his death. Early variations of the song were sung prior to 1700 and inspired Burns to produce the modern rendition. An old Scotch tune, "Auld Lang Syne" literally means "old long ago," or simply, "the good old days."

Whatever you eat, our best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2010. Please drive carefully if you imbibe Champagne or other spirits.