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New Years is a holiday that is celebrated all across the world. It is the day that a new calendar year starts. There are many different calendars in different countries, religions and cultures so not everyone celebrates New Years on January 1st. Each New Year’s celebration comes with different traditions and foods. Let’s explore some traditional New Year’s foods from around the world!


In Japan, on New Year’s Eve, people eat buckwheat noodles or toshikoshi soba. The long noodles are thought to bring about longevity or to symbolize a long life. This tradition dates back to somewhere between 1603-1867 or in Japan’s Edo period. 

Learn how to make toshikosi soba!

Follow a Japanese family as they celebrate New Year’s.


In Spain, starting at the stroke of midnight people eat 12 grapes– one for each chime of the clock. The 12 grapes represent the 12 months of the year. This tradition is called Las Doce Uvas and it dates back to the 1800s. Eating the twelve grapes is believed to bring luck and prosperity for the following year. 
Watch the tradition in action!


On New Years in the American South (and also in some other parts of the country) people eat Hoppin’ John. The dish, Hoppin’ John, is black eyed peas and collard greens (or a mix of black-eyed peas, pork and rice). It is believed to have originated with the enslaved Africans living in the Low Country of South Carolina. The whole meal is supposed to signify good luck– the black eyed peas are circular and shaped like coins, while the greens signify money and the cornbread, gold. 


On New Year’s Eve in Bulgaria people eat the traditional Bulgarian pastry banitsa (or banitza).

Fortunes are baked into the banitsa on little pieces of paper and whichever fortune you get in your piece is what is predicted for your future. 


Nigeria is one of Africa’s most culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse countries– a country which has 527 different languages. And while New Years is a holiday that is celebrated across ethnic lines, the traditions vary widely. This means there are no New Years foods that can be found being eaten across the whole country, but here are a few foods you might find people eating. The first food is lentils which are thought to symbolize prosperity, you can also find people eating fish stew in Nigeria’s coastal communities, and finally coconut candy is a treat to sweeten the New Year.

Coconut candy




The Asian New Year is not celebrated on January 1st, but instead on the lunar new year in many countries in Asia, including China. Family is extremely important in Chinese culture so a lot of importance is placed on the New Year’s Eve meal, also called the Reunion dinner.

There are many regions in China so there is some variation in traditional foods across the country, but there are some foods that can be found in almost all Chinese households. Spring rolls (or eggrolls, as people know them in the US) are very common in China. The name “spring roll” actually comes from another name for the New Year in China, the “Spring Festival.” Dumplings, noodles, steamed fish and chicken, nian gao (rice cake or New Year cake), vegetables, and hot pot are also dishes that are all commonly served for New Year’s meals.

Learn more about the Chinese New Year!
Nián gāo or rice cake
Hot pot


Diwali, or the festival of lights, is one of India’s biggest holidays, but it is also celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs across the world. Diwali lasts five days and is the celebration of new beginnings and good winning over evil. It is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month around October and November. Traditional Diwali foods range greatly from region to region in India, but here are a couple examples of foods people eat. 
Pakoras are fried, spiced fritters either made from vegetables or meats
Learn more about Diwali
Samosas are savory, fried pastries filled with spiced vegetables and/or meats
Besan ladoos or laddus are sweet round deserts made from flour, sugar, and fat
Barfis are dense milk-based sweets


Nowruz, the Persian or Iranian New Year, is celebrated in the spring, around late March. It occurs on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, and lasts for 13 days. It marks the renewal of nature and is a holiday that encourages peace and solidarity. Traditional Nowruz food varies by region, but some dishes you might find are Sabzi Polo Mahi, Reshteh Polo, or Kuku Sabzi.
Sabzi polo mahi is a rice and herb dish that is served with fish
Reshteh polo is a rice and noodle dish which meat is often added to
Kuku sabzi is a Persian herb fritatta (an egg-based dish)


Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, is celebrated in early autumn around September or October . It lasts for two days and commemorates the creation of the world and the making of a fresh start. There are several symbolic foods that are served during the Rosh Hashanah meal. Here are a few: honey, pomegranates, leeks, and fish’s head.

Honey symbolizes a good and sweet new year! It is often eaten with apples.
Pomegranates contain many seeds and it is hoped that the new year will bring as many good things as seeds in the pomegranate
The head of a fish, ram, garlic, or cabbage is included to symbolize moving forward and progress


Learn how to make challah, a braided bread that is eaten during Rosh Hashanah! Challah is baked round during Rosh Hashanah to symbolize continuity and eternal life. It is often eaten with honey!



  • 3 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (or 1 1/2 packages)
  • Sugar (separate 1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  •  5 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 cups of all-purpose flour

Meet Graham Scholar Isabel Brush-Mindell!

I am currently a senior at the University of Michigan pursuing a dual degree in Cognitive Science and Economics. I have enjoyed my time as a part of the Graham Sustainability Institute because I have been able to draw on my passion for learning and collaborating in order to assist people and organizations within the local community. In the future, I hope to continue to make meaningful change through these avenues and hone my interests which lie at the intersection of climate change and sustainability, science, and human rights. In my free time I enjoy hiking, playing soccer, reading, and playing board (and card) games.

The Graham Scholars Program supports 50 undergraduate juniors and seniors at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus annually. The co-curricular program complements many academic programs. Scholars work with organizations through summer internships and sustainability projects that provide an opportunity to refine project management, collaboration, and other skills applicable to all career paths. The Scholars Program is open to all schools and colleges and is supported by the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute, see