With Christmas now behind us, it’s time to consider the next big holiday, the New Year. As you know, Italy is a country filled with customs and traditions, many stemming from the kitchen table, and New Years is no exception. Read on and take note on celebrating the New Year, Italian style.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Menu
The New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day meals are rich in tradition and customs, as rich as you might expect anything Italian to be. There are always a few critical items on the table that are sure to bring on good luck and prosperity in the new year. And who can’t use more of that in 2024?
Lentils symbolize growing prosperity. Why, you ask? Because they increase in volume as they cook! The tradition of eating lentils on New Year dates back to an ancient custom. Small coin purses filled with lentils would be given on New Year’s Eve with the hopes that, over the year ahead, the lentils, which some believed resembled coins, would turn into real gold coins. I prepare lentils religiously every January 1st because, well, why not? It’s no sacrifice to eat a delicious bowl of hearty lentil soup! And be sure to add some sausage to it. Read on to find out why.
The tradition of putting walnuts on the New Year’s table is a peasant one. In ancient times, the head of the family would take 12 walnuts, put them in the cupboard, and covered them with salt. Each nut would represent each month in the coming year. The next day, the drier or wetter walnuts indicated each month of the new year and foretold what type of year to expect. Always used in rituals to the Gods as a symbol of luck and happiness, nuts and all dried fruit must never be missing from the New Year’s table. So add a beautiful basket full of nuts to your dinner menu. And since you now have leftover nuts after placing 12 in your cupboard, why not prepare some delicious walnut cookies?
Always a symbol of productiveness and luck, thanks to the spontaneity of this fruit to release the red seeds when it opens; the pomegranate should never be missing from your New Year’s celebration.
Here’s another tradition I always abide by – making risotto for New Year’s Eve dinner. According to many beliefs, rice grains symbolize abundance. Therefore, they are a good omen for the New Year. Rice can be used as an ingredient in dishes to be prepared for dinner, or if rice isn’t on your menu, place a few small bowls filled with uncooked rice on the table.
This delicious fruit also symbolizes abundance. According to tradition, grapes shouldn’t be missing from your table on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. And 12 grapes should be eaten at midnight as a good omen for the New Year.
With its red color, the color of good luck in Italian culture, the chili pepper is auspicious as a symbol of good luck, also for its shape that resembles the lucky horn, a superstitious object typical of southern Italy. Add it to your dishes or use it as a decoration on your table.
One more tradition that is common in Italy, but because of its rarity in the US, may be harder to follow is to enjoy cotechino. Tradition dictates that cotechino is eaten on New Year’s Eve because it is thought to bring good luck due to its extreme richness. Cotechino is essentially a stuffed sausage. The filling is composed of pork meat including cheek, shoulder, throat, and head. All the ingredients are chopped, seasoned with various spices and stuffed in casing that comes from the pig’s intestines. In the markets in Italy, you can find both raw and pre-cooked. I just make sure my lentil soup has some type of sausage in it, to replace the harder to find traditional cotechino.
So now you know what to eat for a prosperous New Year! 2024 is looking better already!
What to Pack for Italy
Cosa Mettere in Valigia per l'Italia
Everyone is always asking me what they should pack for Italy,
so I’ve created a quick reference guide that you can use for your next trip.
Hint: You don’t need nearly as much as you think you do!