Why do Italians Eat Lentils on New Year’s Eve?

It is tradition for Italians to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve, but what’s behind this culinary practice?

Lentils.jpgDuring the final meal eaten on New Year’s Eve in Italy, Italians typically serve lentils with cotechino or zampone pork sausages, as this meal is considered to bring luck and properity in the new year.

Lentils are one of the world’s most ancient legumes and this tradition actually originates from the Roman custom of giving a “scarsella”, or leather bag, filled with lentils that was traditionally tied to the belt. In these ancient times, it was hoped that the lentils would transform into gold coins, bringing wealth to the wearer of the scarsella.

In fact, the word lentil is derived from the particular lens shape of these legumes, which is of course similar to a coin, perhaps indicating why Romans chose this legume for this tradition. The way in which lentils swell in volume when soaked and cooked was also thought to symbolise greater wealth, so it is no wonder that lentils have become a symbol of prosperity in Italy.

Lentils are so respected in Italy that, in the past, they were given as a gift on 31st December. However, in modern times, most Italians simply enjoy a meal of lentils, eaten close to midnight after a toast to good fortune in the New Year.

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