(PHNO) By Sol Jose Vanzi, PHNO Editor - Bagong taon, bagong buhay. New Year, new life.

The New Year brings hope for change, for a better life. To ensure that Lady Luck helps, we clean the house thoroughly; ensure that all the containers are full: water, salt, rice, oil, sugar and other condiments. We wear new clothes and load our tables with fresh and cooked food that suggest money, health, happiness and long life.

In many parts of the world, luck is associated with food that’s round (the shape of coins), yellow or orange (the color of gold), green (the color of paper money), fish (symbol of bounty), pork (prosperity), legumes (coin-like seeds that expand like wealth) and cakes (sweetness is richness).

We all want luck, but balk at the expense of purchasing all the lucky food items, especially in these days of economic worries. Here are many ways you can afford your own buffet of prosperity without starting the year broke.


[Photo at left - Courtesy of PhilStar, Dec 30 edition: LUCKY FRUITS: A vendor prepares fruits for sale in Ongpin yesterday. Borrowing a tradition from the Chinese community, Filipinos also collect 13 types of round fruits to bring luck in the New Year. MANNY MARCELO]

Europeans and Americans believe in grapes. New Year's revelers in Spain consume twelve grapes at midnight—one grape for each stroke of the clock. The idea spread to Portugal as well as former Spanish and Portuguese colonies such as Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru. The goal is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight, but Peruvians insist on taking in a 13th grape for good measure.

Orientals choose fruits that are round and golden; they resemble gold coins and are believed to ensure more financial prosperity in the coming year. This category includes oranges, persimmon, apples, pears, melons, small ripe calamansi, plums, caimito and pomelo.

Green Leaves

Cooked greens, including cabbage and large leaf spinach, are served in different countries on New Year because green leaves look like folded money and are thus symbolic of economic fortune. The Danish eat stewed kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, the Germans consume sauerkraut (shredded preserved cabbage) while in the southern United States, collards are stewed with ham hocks or bacon grease. It's widely believed that the more greens one eats the larger one's fortune next year.

Filipinos who want to adopt this practice can resort to mustard leaves (mustasa) served with buro or balo-balo (freshwater fish or shrimps fermented in cooked rice). To make this special, my Kapampangan friends taught me to sauté the fermented rice in garlic, onions and tomatoes before wrapping a dollop in raw, crunchy-tender young mustard leaves.

Mustasa leaves can also be sliced thin and sautéed with either mongo or a can of sardines, thus hitting three lucky birds with one stone since sardines, pork and mongo are also considered lucky.


Legumes (white or red kidney beans, lentils, peas, mongo) are also symbolic of money. Their small, seed like appearance resembles coins. The seeds swell to 3 times their dried size, providing for a filling, nutritious and healthy fare. It is an Italian tradition to serve cotechino con lenticchie or sausages and green lentils, a double dose of luck because of the pork in the sausage. Germans also partner legumes and pork, usually lentil or split pea soup with sausage. In Brazil, the first meal of the New Year is usually lentil soup or lentils and rice, and in Japan, the osechi-ryori, a group of symbolic dishes eaten during the first three days of the New Year, includes sweet black beans called kuro-mame.

In the Philippines one can serve hopiang mongo or hopiang baboy for luck. The hopia is round like coins, the fillings of mongo or pork are both lucky.

Pork Pigs symbolize progress because the animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. Roast suckling pig is served for New Year's in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria—Austrians are also known to decorate the table with miniature pigs made of marzipan. Different pork dishes such as pickled pig's feet are enjoyed in Sweden while Germans feast on roast pork and sausages. Pork is also consumed in Italy and the United States, where its rich fat content signifies wealth and prosperity.

Filipinos do not have to serve a whole lechon for luck. Adobong baboy, sinigang or nilaga will do just as well, and would be less expensive, too.

Fish Fish is a very logical choice for the New Year's table. Cod has been a popular feast food since the Middle Ages, because before refrigeration and modern transportation, cod could be preserved and transported allowing it to reach the Mediterranean and even as far as North Africa and the Caribbean. It is also believed that the Catholic Church's policy against red meat consumption on religious holidays helped make cod, as well as other fish, the protein of choice at feasts. The Danish eat boiled cod, while in Italy, baccalà, or dried salt cod, is enjoyed from Christmas through New Year's.

Herring, another frequently preserved fish, is consumed in Poland and Germany—Germans also enjoy carp and have been known to place a few fish scales in their wallets for good luck. The Swedish New Year feast is usually a smorgasbord with a variety of fish dishes such as seafood salad and many kinds of sauced pickled herring. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest (sardines were once used to fertilize rice fields).

In the Philippines, the rich could serve smoked salmon and bacalao, while inihaw na bangus and pinaputok na pla-pla would be for the middle and lower-middle classes. For everybody else, it could be paksiw na galungong, pritong tilapia, tinapang tamban or inihaw na tuyo.

Cakes and Sweets Cakes and other baked goods, especially round or ring-shaped items, are commonly served from Christmas to New Year's around the world. Italy has chiacchiere, which are honey-drenched deep-fried balls of pasta dough dusted with powdered sugar. Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands also eat donuts, and Holland has ollie bollen, puffy, donut-like pastries filled with apples, raisins, and currants.

In certain cultures, it's customary to hide a special trinket or coin inside the cake—the recipient will be lucky in the New Year. Mexico's rosca de reyes is a ring-shaped cake decorated with candied fruit and baked with one or more surprises inside. In Greece, a special round cake called vasilopita is baked with a coin hidden inside. At midnight or after the New Year's Day meal, the cake is cut, with the first piece going to St. Basil and the rest being distributed to guests in order of age. Sweden and Norway have similar rituals in which they hide a whole almond in rice pudding—whoever gets the nut is guaranteed great fortune in the New Year.

In Scotland, where New Year's is called Hogmanay, there is a tradition called "first footing," in which the first person to enter a home after the new year determines what kind of year the residents will have. The "first footer" often brings symbolic gifts like coal to keep the house warm or baked goods such as shortbread, oat cakes, and a fruit caked called black bun, to make sure the household always has food.

In the Philippines, popular round cakes and sweets are ensaimada, doughnuts, monay, puto seko, small puto, kutsinta and small leche flan.

Avoid Lobster, Shrimp, Crabs It is during the New Year when some of the most expensive food items should be avoided. Lobster, for instance, is a bad idea because they move backwards and could therefore lead to setbacks. Crabs move sideways and could mean a stagnant year. Chicken is also discouraged because the bird scratches backwards, which could cause regret or dwelling on the past. Another theory warns against eating any winged fowl because good luck could fly away.

And remember: do not sweep the floor from New Year’s Eve to January 2, or you will be sweeping all your luck away.

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Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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