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How Eastern Europeans Celebrate New Year's

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Glass of Champagne

Glass of Champagne

© Flickr by Anders Adermark

Food and Fun Ring in the New Year

Along with people worldwide, Eastern Europeans welcome in the New Year with revelry and special foods thought to bring good luck, health and prosperity.

Lucky Foods

  • Fish, especially those with silver scales, are thought to symbolize money. Pickled herring are a must for Poles at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

  • Greens, usually cabbage, are associated with money and, thus, thought to bring good fortune. Eating cabbage probably worked its way into New Year lore because it is a late fall crop and the best way to preserve it for the winter was by turning it into sauerkraut. Brining cabbage typically takes six to eight weeks, and would be perfect to eat around New Year. Sauerkraut's long strands also symbolize long life.

  • Legumes, lentils and peas also symbolize money as their appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked.

  • Poppy seeds are considered a lucky food in Poland, so you will find them throughout the cuisine and especially on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

  • Pork's rich fat content symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Pork is also considered a symbol of progress because pigs root forward. Spit-roasted pig is common, as is roast pork loin, sausages and more. The tradition of eating pork probably has more to do with slaughter times than ensuring good fortune.

  • Ring-shaped foods like cookies, doughnuts and bagels symbolize the year coming full circle and represents eternity.

What Not to Eat

Lobster and crab are considered bad luck because they move backwards and could lead to setbacks. Chicken is also a no-no because they scratch backward, and eating any winged fowl is disadvised because this could portend one's good luck flying away.

Bulgarian New Year Traditions

Štastliva (or Chestita) Nova Godina -- Happy New Year in Bulgarian

In Bulgaria, New Year celebrations are week-long affairs featuring processions, musical festivals, carnivals, and sporting events. New Year's Eve is spent visiting friends, making merry, eating lucky foods and many toasts with rakia (grape brandy) and other potent potables. New Year's Day is St. Basil's feast day or vassilyovden when the health-wishing custom of survaki (also known as sourvakari) is observed. Twigs or small branches of the cornel (dogwood) tree, called survaknitsa (also known as sourvachka), are decorated with brightly colored papers. Children brandish their parents, grandparnets, aunts and uncles with these twigs, wishing them well for the new year. In return, the children are rewarded with nuts, candies and coins. Alternatively, the men of the village go from house to house to do the blessing.

New Year is also celebrated by wearing new clothes -- out with the old and in with the new. New Year's Day dinner is a lavish affair, as the richer the spread, the more fruitful the coming year will be. A ritual bread is decorated with symbols representing vines and hives, and a special place is saved for a cheese banitza (also spelled banitsa) with baked-in cornel (dogwood) buds symbolizing home, family and livestock, and promising good health for the coming year.

In western Bulgaria, the central Balkans and in some regions along the Danube River, the custom of ladouvane (also known as koumichene) is observed on New Year's Eve by women wishing to get married. In the rest of the country, it is celebrated on Midsummer Day. The maidens of the village drop symbols of fertility -- rings tied with red string to a spray of fresh ivy or basil, oats and barley -- into a kettle full of spring water on Dec. 30. The kettle is left overnight in the open, under the stars and, on New Year's Eve, following a ritual dance around it, the girls' fortunes are told.

For Orthodox Christian Bulgarians, who follow the Julian calendar, New Year's Eve and Day are celebrated Jan. 13-14. Read more about Bulgarian festivals here.

Croatian New Year Traditions

Sretna Nova Godina -- Happy New Year in Croatian

In Croatia, New Year's Eve is celebrated with parties in houses, hotels, discos and public squares. Fireworks on the stroke of midnight is common in the larger cities of Dubrovnik, Hvar and Split. Lucky foods eaten include sarma, spit-roasted pig (pecenka), and fish and seafood on the Dalmatian coast. Cevapcici, ajvar, burek, coldcut trays, strudels, nut rolls, and so much more are also eaten on New Year's Day, according to the family's preferences. Read more about Croatian festivals here.

Czech New Year Traditions

Stastny Novy Rok -- Happy New Year in Czech

As in Poland, New Year's Eve is known as St. Sylvester's Day because it is the saint's feast day. And, since Prague was his place of birth, the tie is even stronger in The Czech Republic. New Year's Eve is party time with various chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches), nuts, brambůrky and other snacks. Midnight is celebrated by drinking šampaňské (champagne) or some other local sparkling wine. Some Czechs eat vepřový ovar (boiled pork head) with se strouhaným křenem a jablky (grated horseradish and apples) at midnight. On New Year's Day, cočka (lentils), a symbol of money, are eaten along with pork and leftover vánoční cukrový. Read more about Czech festivals here.

Hungarian New Year Traditions

Boldog új Evet -- Happy New Year in Hungarian

After being carried around the village, effigies of Jack Straw, a scapegoat representing the evils and misfortunes of the past year, are burned on Szilveszter or New Year's Eve. In big cities, there are public celebrations and parties where young and old dance away the night. There is also a New Year's ball and concert at the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest. Street vendors sell masks and noisemakers for the children. On New Year's Day, roast suckling pig and lencse fõzelék (lentil soup) are served -- both considered lucky foods. Eating fish, however, is considered unlucky because it will swim away with one's good fortune. Read more about Hungarian festivals here.

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