Among New Year's traditions to bring good luck, food ranks at the top. People of many cultures consume sweet treats in the hopes of ensuring health and prosperity in the coming year. Not all cultures celebrate the new year at the same time, which means several opportunities throughout a 12-month cycle to indulge in good fortune sweets.
Food and family feasting are a major part of Chinese New Year's celebrations, which begin on the new moon of a lunar calendar sometime between January and March and continue for two weeks. In their book, "The Sweet Spot," cookbook author Genevieve Ko and chef Pichet Ong feature updates on three traditional sweets: "Chinese Delight," a sticky candy made with walnuts and dates that is associated with strong family bonds; "Chocolate Kumquat Spring Rolls," which are golden fried spring roll pastry wrappers filled with citrus-flavored chocolate ganache, representing prosperity; and "Sesame Balls with Drunken Fig Filling," meant to symbolize close, harmonious relationships.
A Taste of Honey
Honey plays a major role in sweet treats for Jewish New Year, another lunar calendar that begins usually some time in September on the holiday called Rosh Hashanah. The golden nectar symbolizes the hope for sweetness in the coming year. This tradition gives rise to a special good luck Jewish New Year's sweet: honey cake. Epicurious magazine asked former Gourmet food editor Kemp Minifie to update the traditional honey cake. Rather than a loaf, Minifie baked her honey cake in a Bundt pan. Baking a honey cake in the round represents another Jewish New Year's good-luck tradition -- the continuation of life. Minifie's recipe for honey cake adds cloves and ginger to the usual cinnamon to ramp up the cake's spiciness. Then she topped off her confection with a chocolate glaze heightened by a sprinkle of sea salt.
Ring in Good Fortune
Most countries celebrate Jan. 1 as the start of a new year. Round or ring-shaped sweet foods, which represent the year coming full circle, find favor in many cultures. Among these are Italy's "chiacchiere," which are balls of fried pasta dough drenched in honey and dusted with powered sugar. Holland has a good luck sweet known as "ollie bollen," a pastry like a doughnut that's filled with raisins, currents and apples. Cooks in Mexico and Greece hide coins or trinkets inside cakes; whoever finds the hidden item will be lucky in the New Year.
Grapes for Good Luck
If all else fails, you can fall back on grapes as a good luck sweet. This tradition dates to 1909 when Spanish growers wanted to dispense of a grape surplus, no doubt to ensure prosperity in the coming year by keeping the price of grapes higher. The idea caught on and spread to Spain's neighbor Portugal and then to their former colonies including Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. Peruvians take the good luck one step farther, consuming 13 grapes instead of 12, just to make sure that sweet good luck follows them into the New Year.
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