Traditionally, the food served on New Year's is steeped in superstition. Though New Year's Eve parties can overflow in excess, meals on New Year's Day are often traditionally quite humble, based on certain food meant to bring luck and prosperity in the coming year.
Hoppin' John and Collard Greens
Hoppin' john is a simple dish made of black-eyed peas and rice. In the American South, it's a traditional part of the New Year's Day meal. The dish is not lavish for a reason: According to superstition, if you eat poor on the first day of the year, you'll eat rich the rest of the year.
Collard greens are served because they are "money" food--the leaves look like cash. Different greens and cabbages are eaten on New Year's all over the world for luck. The American soul food version is long-simmered with fatback or ham hocks, but it can be made with smoked turkey or even garlic and tomatoes for flavor.
Serve with cornbread.
Pork and Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is served on New Year's for the same reason collard greens are: It's "money" food. The tradition of eating sauerkraut for luck was brought to the U.S. by German immigrants, and it is a staple of the Pennsylvania Dutch New Year's meal, slow simmered with pork. Pig is another traditional lucky food, as it symbolized progress.
Serve with mashed potatoes and rye bread.
Fish is another common food for New Year's, a tradition that goes back to the times when preserved fish was by necessity the feast of choice. Fish is eaten all over Europe on New Year's in dishes that include boiled cod, pickled herring and carp. Spanish paella is a luxurious one-pot dish filled with several kinds of fish (usually including shrimp and mussels), chicken and vegetables in saffron-laced rice.
Serve with Spanish corn bread.
Sausage and Lentils
Lentils are another "money" food, because they resemble tiny coins. In Italy, New Year's means pork sausage on a bed of green lentils. The pig, again, symbolizes progress.
Serve with crusty Italian or French bread.