On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, we’re really toasting to a few different events: the triumph of a good year, one for the books; the relief of a bad year, finally finished; and the hopes and dreams attached to the brand new 12 months that are about to unfold, hopefully in spectacular fashion. What kind of feast does this trifecta celebration warrant?
Around the world, foods on the holiday table are symbolic, laden with eaters’ wishes for the new year. Many traditional dishes appear because they’re thought to bestow happiness, prosperity, health, sweetness, and luck.
Around the world, foods on the holiday table are symbolic, laden with eaters’ wishes for the new year.
Some traditions revolve less around the food itself than the act of eating it with people—friends, acquaintances, those with whom you had squabbled but hope to improve relations soon, and even the president. In 1791, George Washington began hosting open-house parties known as “levees,” according to Cathy K. Kaufman, a food historian. At the parties, “any properly dressed person, with a letter of introduction, could—without an invitation—drink punch and nibble cake with the President.” That’s the New Year’s feast as an excuse to establish or re-establish important ties.
And of course, some traditional food isn’t symbolic of anything. If the new year is occasion to party, to drink and dance and joyously stay up all night, then the food served just has to be indulgent—or, better yet, expensive.
We’ve rounded up the staples of New Year’s spreads from around the globe, so you can take inspiration from the world’s annual epicurean traditions, and maybe cook up some of the quintessential recipes yourself.
Needless to say, all of them pair perfectly with champagne.