Pork and Sauerkraut
In the German tradition, we always have pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day.
The German folklore says it is essential for prosperity and good luck in the coming year.
A hog cannot look backwards without turning around so it is considered positive looking to the future. Pork and sauerkraut are considered good luck because sauerkraut is technically cabbage, considered to represent wealth...which I guess would also be lucky. In addition, German tradition believes that pork keeps evil away.
When I was a kid, my Dad always insisted on eating pickled herring at the stroke of midnight. This was a tradition from his childhood. His mother was Polish and I believe this tradition is rooted in this heritage. This tradition goes back to cultures whose livelihood came from the sea, believing that eating herring would bring a bountiful catch in the new year. This makes sense since my father's ancesters were all shipbuilders.
A very important tradition for my grandmother was "first-footing." This tradition involves the one who first enters your home in the New Year. Nothing and nobody should go out of the house until the correct person has come in. My grandmother would not allow a woman to enter the house first. The person HAD to meet the following characteristics.
This person had to be a tall dark-haired man, not part of the residing family and he should be carrying some salt to ensure your future well-being. I think my grandmother modified this to include dark haired family members...which we had a lot of.
She also made a huge pot of lentil soup for New Years. We called it "penny" soup because there were little penny slices of hot dogs in it. At least I think that's why...maybe she put a real penny in the pot...who knows. The tradition of good luck comes from the hope that your riches will be as plentiful as the tiny lentils in the soup. I miss that soup...maybe I'll revive that tradition.
Speaking of coins, my grandmother also baked a cake with a real coin in it. I think it was a nickle. Whoever got the lucky slice was very fortunate indeed. I believe this is a Greek tradition, and possibly a tradition that she adopted from the large number of Greek imigrants who settled in our area.
I am very thankful for these traditions...a real melting pot. They added spice and colorful storytelling to my childhood. There were so many of them that have been lost through the generations.
I'd love to hear about your family traditions!