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EXPLAINED: Why do Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Why do Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve?
Lenticchie con cotechino (lentils with pork sausage) are a New Year delicacy in Italy. Photo: Flickr/Edsel_

Sure, champagne is nice. But you may find Italians are more interested in celebrating the arrival of New Year with a dish of lentils.


For an authentic Italian celebration this New Year’s Eve, you need only three key ingredients: Prosecco, cheesy disco music, and steaming heaps of lentils.

As dishes of lentils are handed out to partygoers just before the countdown, any new arrival to Italy would be forgiven for wondering what’s going on.

Lentils, or lenticchie, are believed to bring good luck in Italy, and eating them at New Year - shortly after midnight - is a tradition that’s said to date back to ancient Rome.

To wish friends luck and prosperity in the New Year, ancient Romans would give a pouch full of lentils as a gift. The coin-shaped legumes, which increase in size when cooked, were believed to represent ​​abundance.

The tradition is still wildly popular today - so much so that lentils of all shapes and sizes are usually sold out in Italian supermarkets by December 31st.

READ ALSO: Do Italians really save a piece of Christmas panettone for February?

Particularly in northern Italy, lenticchie con cotechino is the traditional dish served after midnight. Cotechino is a type of slow-cooked, spiced pork sausage. It’s a hearty and warming dish perfect for a cold winter’s night.

For even more good luck, some people serve lentils with zampone. Another speciality of northern Italy, this is a whole, boned pig’s trotter stuffed with the gelatinous part of the trotter and pork meat. 


Is this part of the traditional dinner on New Year’s Eve? Sometimes - more often on New Year's Day, as the lentils are meant to be eaten once the New Year begins.

If lentils do feature on your Italian NYE menu, they'll probably be served as a midnight snack, long after you’ve finished your multiple-course meal (naturally, Italian New Year's Eve parties are more about eating than drinking or dancing.)

Regardless of how much you’ve already eaten, you’ll need to find room for those lentils. The more you eat, the luckier you’ll be in the coming year. Auguri!


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Anonymous 2021/12/31 11:09
I lived near Castelnuovo Rangone, which boasts a festival with the world's largest zampone. This is in Modena province. Zampone is definitely an acquired taste. Auguri!!

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