In Germany, New Year’s Eve, or Silvester, is a holiday cast in great superstition. Several traditional customs are observed as a means of warding off bad omens, inviting in prosperity, and stockpiling as much good luck as possible. This is done particularly through the consumption of certain auspicious foods. Here’s our list of what to chow down on for a lucky new year.
To the rest of the world, the idea of eating sauerkraut in order to jump-start the cash flow in the new year seems utterly bizarre, or at least rather irrelevant. Not in Germany! Here, each shred of fermented cabbage signifies a bit of currency. Therefore, the more sauerkraut a person eats on New Year’s Day, the better. In fact, many will take their first bites just as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Just be sure to squeeze in the New Year’s kiss before your good fortune halitosis sets in.
More often than not, sauerkraut is eaten alongside some pork. Roasted pork is the most common, but some will opt for pickled pig’s feet or bratwurst instead. Traditionally speaking, the pig represents prosperity, heartiness, and good humor. Representing well-being, consuming this animal on New Year’s Day is said to usher in some extra good luck for the year to come. This symbol has also been translated into a popular sweet treat, often featured as a dessert on New Year’s Eve menus: the good luck pig. Made from marzipan, eating this adorable pink piglet will also do the trick as far as good fortune goes.
Similar to the meaning behind sauerkraut, but perhaps a bit more convincing, the lentil represents good luck in the form of prosperity. Thanks to its flat, round shape, each lentil signifies a coin, so the more lentils one eats, the richer one will be in the new year. This tradition has been so widely accepted that eating a warm bowl of lentil soup on New Year’s Eve is probably one of the most widespread and common things to do on this day. Be sure to finish the dish in its entirety, though – this will ensure that your pockets will always be filled with money.
While in itself not technically linked to luck, the act of gathering with family and friends to wish them Prost Neujahr, Guten Rutsch, or Viel Glück, is certainly linked to channeling positive vibes and good cheer. In contemporary times, Germans have been known to gather in large groups to eat fondue or raclette, dipping skewers with meats, breads, and veggies in the communal pot or griddle. Sometimes, stones are heated and guests use their skewers to grill meat on them as well. This kind of meal is particularly common on New Year’s Eve.
It is worth mentioning that monetary wealth is not the only form of prosperity Germans believe is worth protecting. To stave off times of hunger and nutritional scarcity, Germans in some regions, including that of Saxony, will leave a piece of bread sprinkled with salt underneath the tablecloth overnight as a means of warding off tough times in the future.
For reasons linked to luck, Germans tend to avoid eating poultry on New Year’s Eve. It is believed that poultry consumption on this day diminishes one’s overall happiness in the year to come, as it flies away on the wings of the bird that was eaten. Carp is a common alternative here, most often eaten on Silvester. As with sauerkraut or lentils, each scale on the fish is said to represent a unit of money, and some believe carrying a scale around with them in the coming year will also add to their overall prosperity.
Finally, while many different sweet treats and baked goods are commonly eaten on Silvester and New Year’s Day, pretzels steal the show. Woven into a myriad of different patterns – from the traditional twists to wreaths or braids – they represent infinity, unity and, of course, good luck. Also, if you’re visiting Germany over the holidays, expect to stumble upon a loaf or two of Neujahrsbrot, a type of bread commonly gifted this time of year. It is similar to a pretzel in shape and dough, but is often baked to be fluffier and sweeter than your average pretzel.