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What do Italians eat for New Year?

Happy New Year

The New Year is almost upon us and in Italy people are starting to think about preparing their dinners for the 31 December. Many Italians will go out to dinner on that night, and restaurants up and down the country provide special meals, often quite costly, to celebrate with music and dancing. Whether people go out or stay at home, there is one thing which is usually on the menu: cotechino e lenticchie (a kind of pork sausage served with lentils).

Cotechino or zampone?

Although originally from Friuli Venezia Giulia, cotechino is produced all over northern-Italy and eaten all over the peninsula. It’s a sausage made of pork rind, pancetta, and other cuts of pork. You have to boil it and then serve it hot in slices. Some people will eat zampone instead. This is a traditional product from Modena in Emilia Romagna. It’s similar to cotechino but made from different cuts of the pig including offal, and made into the form of a pig’s trotter. Zampone is supposed to have been invented during the seige of Mirandola (near Modena) in 1511. The origins of cotechino are much older. Both foodstuffs are very rich and so are thought of as being symbols of good fortune in the New Year. 

Why lentils?

Lentils are one of the oldest foodstuffs cultivated by man and were much appreciated in Roman times as a healthy food. Remains of lentils dating back to 11,000 BC have been found in Greece. They are a fantastic source of protein, fibre, and other essential nutrients, as well as being virtually fat free. Italians believe that eating lentils on New Year’s Eve will bring you luck for the year to come because, aside from the health benefits, they look like little coins and so symbolize good fortune. You should, therefore, eat as many as you can. 

If you want to partake of this tradition, cotechino can be found in most Italian delis and specialist foodshops all over the world. It’s normally sealed in a foil bag which you use to boil it in. 

What do Italians call New Year?

1st January is known as Capodanno (literally the head or top of the year). 31st December is known as the vigilia di Capodanno (New Year’s Eve) or the feast of San Silvestro

Other traditions

As well as eating cotechino / zampone and lentils, Italians will toast the New Year with spumante (sparkling wine) often prosecco, franciacorta, or even French champagne. There are usually fireworks at midnight too.

Some people will throw old objects out of the window at midnight. This used to be a very popular tradition but nowadays is not much observed due to safety considerations. TVs, washing machines, and other white goods have, in the past, helped passers-by to begin the New Year in hospital. 

Wearing something red is also an old tradition. In some parts of Italy this means underwear, which is then thrown away the next day to symbolize turning your back on the old year and starting afresh. 


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