Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

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Edible Luck: German Traditional Foods for the New Year

As with any holiday celebration, food plays an important role in New Year's Eve and Day traditions around the world. Many people eat pomegranates, that sacred fruit of Persephone associated with rebirth. In Spain, since the turn of the 20th century, it's been the tradition to eat twelve grapes -- one for each month of the coming year and for each toll of the midnight bell. In Charleston, SC (and across the American South), hoppin' john is considered good luck -- the beans symbolize coins -- a tradition originating in African American culture. While waiting for the New Year's ball to drop, my family has always shared a platter of crackers, summer sausage and ham, and a variety of cheeses with champagne for the adults and sparkling grape juice for the kids (we always called it Kinderwein, thanks to our time living in Germany and our partially German American roots).

In addition to pork and ham, Germans also make and eat Glückschwein, marzipan confections in the shape of pigs. The Germanic veneration of pigs goes back a long way to pre-Christian times. Remember that boars are associated with Freyr and Freya -- the golden-bristled Gullinbursti and the disguised lover Hildisvini, respectively. That tradition continues today -- pigs are lucky animals in German culture, symbolizing wealth and health. The term Glückschwein means just that: "lucky pig."

Another traditional New Year food is sauerkraut. Homemade sauerkraut is ready just in time for the celebration, the raw cabbage having been harvested in late fall and pickled for six to eight weeks in vinegar and salt. It's said that the length of the strings of shredded cabbage symbolize long life, ensuring health in the coming year.

Less commonly cited foods eaten around this time are grain products -- raisin- or dried currant-speckled donuts called oliebollen  in the Netherlands, as well as pancakes, dumplings, and oatmeal. These foods are strongly tied to the winter goddesses Perchta and Frau Holle/Holda, so much so that lore states that if these foods are not consumed on the goddesses' visitation night at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (die Zwolften in German), then you could be in quite a bit of trouble -- Perchta may come and open your stomach, remove your entrails, and stuff the cavity with garbage.

Which, in a sense, goes to show how feasting is a powerful and important form of offering. Nowadays, most people think of food offerings only in terms of giving something away -- leaving it out, unconsumed, and then disposing of it in a ritualistic and respectful way. This is a valid method of making an offering, but consuming food in a festive, deliberate way is equally valid in some cultures and traditions. A meal is blessed by being dedicated to a spirit -- not just the food itself, but also the energy put into preparing it, the enjoyment of it, the conversation and singing and laughter that happens around it, and the warm memories and bonds that are made and strengthened by it.

Here's to a happy, healthy, luck-filled new year!

 

(Image by B. I. on Flickr)

 

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 02 January 2019

    Greens were supposed to represent folding money, but dad would always turn the heat up to high and scorch them. The kitchen stank for the rest of the day. The rest of us ate beans and cornbread seasoned with ham. Field peas from our own garden were the best beans. We topped the beans with chow chow relish.

  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife Thursday, 03 January 2019

    Sounds like you're from the Carolinas! I love those food traditions. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tyger
    Tyger Thursday, 03 January 2019

    I grew up in Switzerland. On New Year's Eve at the dinner-and-dance clubs, they used to bring a baby pig at midnight and let everyone touch it for good luck. The slang word for 'good luck' is 'Schwein' (swine), and we used to send each other new year's cards with pigs and cloverleaves on them. There is also a special sausage we ate at midnight with our champagne, called 'Gruene Wurst' (green sausage). It is made from pork and beef.

  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife Thursday, 03 January 2019

    Thanks for sharing these traditions! I remember the pigs with clover from parts of Germany, too. The piglet tradition is new to me, and it sounds so charming.

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