New Year’s food in the United States: a multicultural celebration

“New Year’s Celebrations. Although champage has become de rigeur as midnight strikes, no single food epitomizes the contemporary New Year’s holiday. The menu may be luxurious caviar at a New Year’s Eve bacchanalia or a sobering hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. Celebrations marking the inexorable march of Father Time often involve foods imbued with symbolism, such as in the Pennsylvania Dutch New Year’s tradition of sauerkraut (for wealth) and pork–the pig roots forward into the future, unlike the Christmas turkey, which buries the past by scratching backward in the dirt. Seventeeth-century Dutch immigrants in the Hudson River valley welcomed the New Year by “opening the house” to family and friends. The custom was adapted by English colonists, who used brief, strictly choreographed January 1 social calls for gentlemen to renew bonds or repair frayed relationships. Ladies remained at home, offering elegantly arrayed collations laden with cherry bounce, wine, hot punch, and cakes and cookies, often flavored with the Dutch signatures of caraway, coriander, cardamom, and honey. Embossed New Year’s ‘cakes,” from the Dutch nieuwjaarskoeken–made by pressing a cookie-like dough into carved wooden boards decorated with flora and fauna–were a New York specialty throughout the nineteenth century…The New York custom of open house spread westward in the nineteeth century…In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries those of French and English backgrounds celebrated the twelve days of Christmas with gifts of food and festive dinners on January 1…African Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made one of the most enduring contributions to the modern holiday. Starting in the Carolinas but extending throughout the South, hoppin’ John and greens became traditional New Year’s fare, black-eyed peas bringing luck and the rice (which swelled in the cooking) and greens (like money) bringing prosperity. In the early twentieth century Japanese Americans adopted the open house tradition, serving glutinous rice dishes, soups, boiled lobsters (signifying health and happiness), and fish specially prepared to appear live and swimming.” —Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 2 (p. 189-90)