Is it good luck to eat fish on new year’s?

Eating fish on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day is considered lucky in many cultures around the world. The tradition stems from the symbolic meaning behind fish and the start of a new year.

Why Do People Eat Fish on New Year’s for Good Luck?

There are a few reasons why fish is associated with good fortune for the coming year:

  • Fish swim forward – Eating fish symbolizes progress and moving forward in the new year.
  • Fish scales resemble coins – Fish scales shimmering like silver and gold represent prosperity.
  • Fish only have one head – This represents a “head start” on focusing your mind and energy at the start of the year.
  • Whole fish resemble togetherness – Cooking and serving a whole fish promotes unity and family closeness.

In various cultures, different fish hold symbolic meaning:

  • Europe – Cod and herring
  • Germany & Poland – Carp
  • Scandinavia – Herring
  • Japan – Tuna, snapper, carp
  • China – Chinese had a saying “when the carp has leaped through the dragon’s gate, it becomes a dragon”

What Types of Fish are Considered Lucky?

While any fish will bring good fortune, according to folklore, these are top fish believed to be particularly lucky for New Year’s:

  • Carp – Longevity, perseverance. Popular in Asian cultures.
  • Catfish – Prosperity. Catfish hide under rocks, so they symbolize fortune and wealth.
  • Cod – Success. Cod’s white meat represents enlightenment.
  • Eel – Good fortune. Their slimy coating makes them seem elusive and magical.
  • Herring – Fertility and new beginnings. They spawn huge numbers of eggs.
  • Lobster – Long life. Lobsters can live up to 100 years. They also turn bright red when cooked.
  • Oysters – Love and romance. Their shape is reminiscent of female anatomy.
  • Salmon – Wisdom. They can swim upstream and leap over falls and river mouths.
  • Snapper – Success in career and wealth. Snapper have beautiful red coloring.
  • Sole – Peace and harmony. Their flat shape allows them to maneuver the ocean floor.
  • Trout – Perseverance. They’re strong swimmers known for fighting skill when hooked.
  • Tuna – Prosperity. Tuna are striking fish with stamina to swim long journeys.

What are the Origins of Eating Fish for Good Luck?

The practice of eating fish for good fortune dates back thousands of years and originated all around the world:

  • Ancient Egypt – Beginning of annual Nile River flooding (inundation). Celebrated in September when fish filled the river.
  • Ancient Greece – March equinox celebration of the new year included herring for fertility.
  • Ancient Rome – Paid tributes to King Saturn with fish feasts.
  • Babylonians – New Year’s feast included fish and recited spells for good fortune.
  • Chinese – Words for fish “yu” and abundance “yu” are pronounced the same, linking fish to prosperity.
  • European Christians – Symbolism of Jesus feeding the 5,000 carried into New Year’s meals.
  • Hindu – Mark the start of spring with vows and offerings to deities.
  • Judaism – Recite a prayer for fish’s head and eat fish head or roe for knowledge.
  • Scandinavia – Herring is fertility symbol, eaten around winter solstice.

What are the Different Ways Fish is Served for New Year’s?

Preparing and eating fish on New Year’s takes many forms around the world:

  • Whole fish – Symbolizes togetherness and family unity. Common in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine.
  • Fish head or roe – Signifies knowledge and wisdom. Popular in Germany and Poland.
  • Smoked fish – Preserved fish that lasts the winter. Celebrates perseverance.
  • Fish soup – Nourishment and warmth during cold months. Found in Scandinavian dishes.
  • Fish pie – Flaky white fish baked under mashed potatoes. Also potato-crusted cod.
  • Fish platter – Lavish presentation of smoked, cured, and pickled fish. In Russia and Ukraine.
  • Fish stew – Hearty, robust dish feeding a crowd. Traditional in Greece and Egypt.
  • Salt cod – Dried and salted for preservation. Soaked then boiled or fried.

Fish is prepared fried, broiled, poached, smoked, dried, or incorporated into spreads and dips. Roe from fish like trout, salmon, and shad is considered a delicacy.

What are Some Classic Fish Dishes for New Year’s?

Signature fish entrees and appetizers for good luck on New Year’s Eve or Day include:

Culture Lucky Fish Dishes
Austrian Carp fried in breadcrumbs, herring salad
Chinese Steamed whole fish, fish noodle soup
English Smoked salmon, trout
Ethiopian Fish wat stew, tilapia with onion
German Carp blue with raisins, smoked eel
Greek Baked cod, sardines
Indian Fish curry with rice, fried snapper
Italian Baccala (salt cod)
Jewish Gefilte fish, fried carp
Nordic Gravlax (dill cured salmon)
Southern US Catfish fry, oyster stew
Vietnamese Steamed fish with dill, clam noodle soup

What Foods are Considered Bad Luck for New Year’s?

In contrast to fish, there are certain foods considered unlucky to eat on New Year’s in some cultures:

  • Chicken – Chickens scratch backwards, so seen as moving in the wrong direction.
  • Lobsters – Their long life spans are cut short when cooked, which could foreshadow shortening one’s own life.
  • Wings – Wings symbolize flight, which could imply one’s good fortune “flying away.”
  • Eggs – Fragile eggs represent vulnerability for the coming year.
  • Beef – A head of cattle served whole looks morbid on a celebratory table.
  • Persimmons – Persimmon trees bear fruit only every 2 years, so they may bring long waits for good fortune.
  • Octopus – The tentacles of an octopus symbolize clinging onto the past year rather than progress.

However, these taboos originate from selected regions. Different cultures have their own customs, so bad luck foods may not apply universally.

What are Considered Lucky New Year’s Day Foods Other Than Fish?

In addition to fish, other traditional New Year’s Day foods are thought to summon good luck in different ways:

  • Pork – Abundance, richness. Pork denotes wealth because pigs forage forward.
  • Grapes – Fertility, prosperity. Grapes swell with juice and grow in lush bunches.
  • Black-eyed peas – Good fortune. Resemble coins. Eaten in the southern United States.
  • Lentils – Success. Their coin-like shape makes them symbolic. Popular in Italy.
  • Cabbage – Cash, riches. Cabbage leaves unfurl like unfolding wads of money.
  • Pomegranates – Plentitude, ambition. Their numerous seeds represent fertility and achievement.
  • Corn bread – Gold, wealth. Corn bread is the color of coins and feeds the family.
  • Noodles – Long life, longevity. Long noodles symbolize a long life.

Ring-shaped and seed-bearing foods also promote the cyclic nature of the new year. Fruits and legumes symbolize plenty to feed a household.

What are Lucky New Year’s Beverages?

Auspicious beverages are also sipped at New Year’s celebrations:

  • Wine – Joy, celebration. Toasting new beginnings and hopes.
  • Champagne – Bubbly cheer, optimism. Rising bubbles represent uplifted spirits.
  • Pomegranate juice – Fertility, fecundity. The many juicy seeds offer plentitude.
  • Cider – Fortune, change. Fermented apples represent autumn’s bounty and life’s transitions.
  • Eggnog – Joviality, warmth. Eggs and milk products nourish body and soul.
  • Ginger tea – Success, courage. Ginger’s spicy heat fuels inner strength and convictions.
  • Hot toddy – Conviviality, vigor. Whiskey, lemon, and honey offer vibrance against winter’s chill.

Toasting with drinks infuses New Year’s celebrations with sentiments of optimism, abundance, and bright prospects for the future.

What are Fun Edible Crafts for New Year’s?

Ringing in the new year with clever food crafts engages celebration guests:

  • A clock with food on a platter to denote the countdown to midnight.
  • Party hats decorated with fruit to celebrate.
  • Centerpieces made from stacking ring donuts or bagels.
  • Noisemakers constructed using uncooked pasta and popcorn kernels in tubes.
  • Confetti from hole punches or shaped cookie cutters out of fruit fruit leather sheets.
  • Signs with inspiring New Year’s messages spelled out in sliced fruit and vegetables.
  • Tablecloth banner painted with edible, food-based dyes.

Interactive edible centerpieces infuse DIY fun into New Year’s festivities. The creations can even incorporate symbolic lucky foods like grapes, fish, or corn.

How Do Different Cultures Celebrate New Year’s with Food and Fish?

Cuisine and customs featuring fish on New Year’s widely vary between global cultures:

  • Japan – Osechi-ryori feast with symbolic dishes like herring roe and brined salmon.
  • China – Dumplings shaped like gold ingots, fish for abundance.
  • Greece – Vasilopita bread with a hidden coin baked inside.
  • Russia – Olivier salad with diced fish, champagne, caviar on blinis.
  • Italy – Lentils for prosperity, baccala (salted cod) for luck.
  • Jewish – Gefilte fish or fried carp, challah bread, pomegranate.
  • India – Vegetarian dishes of peas, nuts, spices for new beginnings.
  • Scotland – Haggis meat pudding, black bun fruitcake.
  • Brazil – Lentil dishes, glasses of champagne, jumping seven waves for wishes.
  • Spain – Twelve grapes at midnight, seafood, suckling pig.

While customs vary, the universal theme emphasizes food’s importance in honoring heritage and bringing good fortune for the coming year.

Do People Really Believe Eating Fish Brings Luck?

Views differ on whether fish holds genuine power for luck:

  • Skeptics see it simply as folklore, myth, or cultural tradition.
  • Practitioners view symbolic foods as part of meaningful rituals for renewal.
  • Some espouse the idea luck is mainly shaped by one’s attitude and preparation rather than external forces.
  • Others consider luck flexible and suspect lucky foods subtly help by boosting morale.

Fish for New Year’s can influence luck through the placebo effect. Believing a food brings fortune may elicit real measurable benefits.

Rituals also help people mentally transition and summon optimism at the milestone of starting anew. Holiday meals mark a definitive break with the past.


The tradition of eating fish for luck on New Year’s Day spans vastly diverse global cultures. The long-held practice speaks to the human longing to feel fortune is within our grasp.

Fish holds layered symbolic meaning about aspirations like prosperity, longevity, and insight. New Year’s meals provide comfort and hope when starting fresh.

More than superstition, the custom reflects the spirit’s need for rituals to renew and look ahead with resolve. Ingredients may differ, but the universal desire for good fortune unites all.

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