What meat to eat on New Year’s Day?

Quick Answers

There are a few popular and traditional meat choices for New Year’s Day meals:

  • Pork – Pork is considered lucky since pigs dig forward, representing progress.
  • Lamb – Lamb symbolizes a fresh start and new beginnings.
  • Black-eyed peas – Eaten for prosperity and good fortune in the new year.
  • Corned beef and cabbage – An Irish-American tradition representing fortune.
  • Chicken or turkey – Poultry is a common centerpiece for celebratory meals.

New Year’s Day represents a fresh start and an opportunity to set the tone for the coming year. For many, an auspicious or symbolic New Year’s meal is an important tradition. Certain ingredients are chosen for their connotations of wealth, luck, or new beginnings in the year ahead.

While tastes and customs vary around the world, some New Year’s foods recur across cultures. In many regions, eating certain meats and dishes on January 1st is thought to prophesize what the year will bring. Whether you’re looking to eat for luck, wealth, or a clean slate, read on to learn about the symbolism behind common New Year’s Day meat choices.

Pork for Progress

In many cultures, pork is considered the quintessential good luck food for New Year’s celebrations. This tradition has roots in Europe, but is especially prevalent in Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine. The connection between pork and prosperity stems from the animal’s forward-digging nature. As pigs root forward with their snouts when searching for food, they’re seen as representing progress and the promise of the year ahead.

Because of this symbolism, dishes like roast suckling pig, ham, or pork sausage often feature in New Year’s feasts. In Spain, suckling pig is eaten at midnight on New Year’s along with 12 grapes for good fortune in each month. Melon or grapes carved into the shape of pigs are also displayed as centerpieces. In Austria and Germany, pork dishes like roasted pig, pork knuckles, sausages are traditional New Year’s fare.

However, the strong pork-centric New Year’s customs are most prominent in Chinese cultures. Whole fish is also important in Chinese New Year cuisine, but pork dishes are essential. The Mandarin word for meat, rou, sounds like another word meaning “to prosper.” Braised pork, roast pork belly, and steamed pork dumplings are some go-to options.

Regional Chinese Pork Traditions

Here are some examples of auspicious pork dishes eaten for Chinese Lunar New Year festivities:

  • Peking Duck – The glossy, lacquered duck skin represents prosperity.
  • Char siu – The reddish BBQ pork is considered a lucky color.
  • Suckling Pig – Symbolizes virility and fertility for the new year.
  • Jiaozi dumplings – Shaped like ancient gold ingots.
  • Buddha’s Temptation – Lacquered pork belly and pine nuts.

In China, whole fish is also displayed on the table, with the fish sound being a homophone for surplus and abundance. Beyond only pork and seafood, long noodles signify long life in Chinese New Year meals.

Lamb for a Fresh Start

While not as universally symbolic as pork, lamb is also a common New Year’s Day meat choice in many cuisines. The connection between lamb and new beginnings relates to the spring birthing season for sheep. As lambs are born in springtime yearly, they represent renewal and starting anew.

In Greece, whole roasted lamb is traditionally served for Easter as well as New Year’s Day. Braised lamb shanks or lamb stew with root vegetables is also popular Greek New Year’s fare. In Italy, lamb is not as strongly associated with New Year’s compared to pork. However, roasted or fried lamb chops may make an appearance along with other meat dishes.

For Persian New Year, lamb is a centerpiece dish. Iranians celebrate Nowruz on the spring equinox, timing the holiday’s fresh start symbolism with the astrological new year. Herbs like sabzi are also served for rebirth. Other Persian New Year lamb dishes include:

  • Lamb shank stew with split peas
  • Lamb meatballs with barberry rice
  • Whole roasted lamb

In Western New Year traditions, lamb is sometimes paired with cabbage dishes. Cabbage leaves wrapped around meat represent money or fortune. Lamb also complements the green color of cabbage.

Black-Eyed Peas for Prosperity

Unlike pork and lamb, black-eyed peas are not commonly found at New Year’s feasts worldwide. However, this humble legume has become a quintessential part of New Year’s Day in the American South. The tradition of eating black-eyed peas for good luck and prosperity traces back to the Civil War era.

As one legend goes, this tradition started because black-eyed peas were one of the only crops that thrived during wartime shortages. Southerners who could eat the beans were lucky to avoid starvation. Black-eyed peas thus became a symbol of resilience, nourishment, and hope for the future even in difficult times.

Today, hoppin’ john is the traditional stew of black-eyed peas, rice, and pork that is eaten across the South on New Year’s Day. Collard greens are often served alongside representing currency. Other preparations like seasoned cooked peas, bean dip, or peas and cornbread are also common. Eating even just a spoonful of black-eyed peas is thought to invite wealth and luck for the new year.

Traditional Southern New Year’s Dishes

Here are some classic good luck recipes containing black-eyed peas:

  • Hoppin’ John – Black-eyed peas, rice, and ham hocks.
  • Red beans and rice – Kidney beans also signify luck.
  • Collard greens – Representing cash for the new year.
  • Cornbread – The golden color signifies prosperity.
  • Pinto beans – A creamy bean soup with ham.

In some families, a dime is added to the pot of black-eyed peas, or coins are placed on the dining table, to manifest more wealth in the coming year.

Corned Beef and Cabbage for Fortune

Brisket or roast beef is not an obvious New Year’s choice compared to finer cuts of meat. However, corned beef and cabbage has become a treasured New Year’s Day food tradition among Irish-Americans. This dish’s connections to fortune and prosperity relate to its role in Irish and Irish-American history.

In old Ireland, beef was a food only wealthy families could afford for special occasions and winter feasts. Brisket, one of the cheaper cuts, was preserved with salt to make “corned beef.” The dish gained popularity in the U.S. as Irish immigrants substituted corned beef for their traditional bacon.

Along with potatoes, hearty corned beef and cabbage offered nourishment and a taste of home. Cabbage became an economical accompaniment, as it was more affordable than other vegetables in winter. While simple to make, the dish symbolized hope, survival, and making the most of available means in hard times.

For many Irish-Americans today, eating corned beef and cabbage on New Year’s Day celebrates this story of thrift and perseverance. The food also honors Irish-American history and collective fortune to have survived and thrived after emigration. Some cooks add carrots, potatoes, spices, or beer to their New Year’s brisket for extra Irish flair.

Chicken or Turkey for Celebration

Compared to pigs, lambs, or black-eyed peas, poultry may not seem steeped in obvious New Year’s symbolism. However, roasted chicken or turkey remains a popular centerpiece dish. Many households simply want a special protein to anchor their New Year’s meal. Others see chickens or turkeys as a festive food fitting for the holiday.

In the U.S., turkey, stuffing, and side dishes strongly recall Thanksgiving. But turkey is also tied to other holidays and celebrations. Stuffing the turkey represents abundance, as well as sealing in the good luck. Any poultry dishes left over can be used for sandwiches and meals in the days following New Year’s.

Some serve game hens or Cornish hens for a smaller bird to feed each guest. Poultry offers a blank canvas that you can rub with auspicious herbs and spices. For luck, try stuffing your chicken with rice, barley, or mushrooms. You can also include sausage or ham to incorporate traditional New Year’s pork.

Lucky New Year’s Poultry Dishes

Here are some festive ways to prepare your New Year’s chicken or turkey:

  • Roast turkey with wild rice stuffing
  • Herb-rubbed roasted chickens
  • Thai-style turkey with lemongrass and fish sauce
  • Beer can chicken
  • Turkey or chicken fried rice
  • Chicken braised in white wine

For vegetarians or lighter fare, many meatless New Year’s recipes focus on beans, greens, and grains. But hearty mushroom or vegetable pot pies also make satisfying centerpieces.


New Year’s Day offers an opportunity to set aspirations for the year ahead. For many revelers worldwide, eating symbolic or auspicious foods is integral to celebrating new beginnings. Pork, lamb, black-eyed peas, corned beef, and poultry are some traditional New Year’s meats tied to luck, prosperity, or general good fortune in the coming year.

From roast suckling pig in China to hoppin’ john in the American South, these dishes reflect regional stories, histories, and wishes for the future. Cooking one of these symbolic entrees infuses your New Year’s meal with meaning beyondsimply celebrating the holiday. While not everyone believes in these old food superstitions, they can add festivity, richness and a connection to culture in welcoming another new year.

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