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NEW YEAR

Here’s why Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve

Toasting the arrival of New Year with champagne is nice, sure. But after the stroke of midnight, you may find Italians are more interested in eating dishes of lentils. Here’s why.

Here's why 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_

With coronavirus restrictions in place again across Italy this New Year’s Eve, it’s going to be a quieter one than usual. But luckily, an Italian NYE party is easy enough to recreate at home.

To make it authentic, 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.

READ ALSO: Panettone or pandoro: Which is the best Italian Christmas cake?

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 popular today – so much so that lentils of all shapes and sizes are usually sold out in Italian supermarkets by December 31st.

READ ALSO: Why you shouldn’t suck prawn heads during an Italian Christmas feast 

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. 

So is that 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.

But even if lentils featured on your NYE dinner menu, you’ll get more of them later if you’re at any sort of formal event. This midnight snack is to be eaten shortly after you’ve finished your four-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 plenty of lentils. The more lentils you eat, the luckier you’ll be in the coming year. And we could all use some extra luck in 2021.

Member comments

  1. 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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ITALY EXPLAINED

Why the great autumn wardrobe switch is serious business in Italy

Some of Italy’s foreign residents may still be wearing t-shirts, but Italians are preparing for the most stressful style-related event of the year: the summer-to-autumn wardrobe switch. Silvia Marchetti explains what it’s all about.

Why the great autumn wardrobe switch is serious business in Italy

People have always said to me that Italians stand out (particularly abroad) because of the way they dress, the style of their clothes, the designer labels, the gorgeous bags and shoes. 

But it’s not because they really do dress better than others, rather they are extremely picky about what they wear, and when they wear it, at which precise time of the year. 

Italians are dead serious about adapting their dress code to the different seasons in response to dropping or rising temperatures. The ‘wardrobe switch’ is a major event that consumes entire days of a family’s weekends or spare time. From the kids to granny, all must change their apparel. I remember my grandparents used to mark it on their calendar, a bit like when you have to take the car for the annual check called the tagliando

There are four major wardrobe switches, as many as the seasons. The most tiring is the summer-to-autumn one, which usually occurs mid-September when the summer heat abates. 

Summer clothes are taken out of the closet and laid on the bed, then autumn apparel is plucked out from an upper closet space and neatly laid on the other side of the bed to be scrutinized. 

READ ALSO: Pumpkin risotto and the great wardrobe switch: How life in Italy changes when autumn arrives

It’s then time to do some clearing out: the switch is the time to try on autumn clothes and see if they still fit or are no longer wanted or liked (meaning you’ll be shopping for new ones). 

This stage can take hours, if not days. Jackets, which usually take up more space and are kept in the cellar or attic, are also cleaned of dust and tried on. 

Photo: Dan Gold/Unsplash

The summer apparel is then packed away and replaced by the autumn clothes, which are laid out in the same spot where the t-shirts and shorts once were. The same goes for shoe switches. Back in the box with those flip-flops, which are a major no-no after September 20th, and back on the shelves for boots and sneakers. 

When an Italian decides that summer is over, summer is over even if it’s still 25 degrees outside. My boyfriend just switched from shorts to trousers, even though he’s sweating most of the time. 

And it may seem that there’s a particular dress code that everyone follows. Autumn calls for ‘camicette’ shirts, light leather jackets, jeans, and bright little stylish scarves in silk or cotton to protect against the first potential cold air. Rain coats and casual jackets dubbed spolverini (dusters) are also taken out of storage.

The motto is ‘vestirsi a cipolla’, meaning ‘to dress like an onion’, with layers of shirts and sweaters that can be peeled off throughout the day depending on temperature swings. 

READ ALSO: Ten Italian lifestyle habits to adopt immediately

It’s a way to avoid sweating at noon or getting too cold in the evenings. But it’s also a stylish dressing habit to show that we are fully equipped, including financially, to cope with the changing seasons. If you don’t buy at least one new item of clothing per season, that’s just ‘not cool’.

A ‘booster’ wardrobe switch happens again in December, when the piumini, or hardcore winter ‘duvet’ coats, and knitted wool sweaters are taken out to reinforce the autumn apparel. 

Even if it never gets that cold in Italy compared to some countries, Italians still like to wear wool hats, gloves and some even wear furs, heavy boots and mountain-climbing uniforms – perhaps just for the sake of showing off some of their cool skiing apparel. 

Whether in autumn, winter, spring, or summer, the wardrobe switch is also an excuse to go shopping. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Then when spring arrives, winter clothes disappear and autumn attire starts mixing with some t-shirts, sleeveless jackets, and lighter cotton pants. 

But it’s still too early to wear shorts for men or skirts without stockings for women: showing off white bare legs is so unstylish.

Alas, when it’s finally summer, flip flops and sandals pop out again and the switch is an occasion to throw away unwanted summer clothes from the previous year and buy new bikinis, skirts, tank tops and fancy colorful shirts. This can be quite painful if you happen to have gained weight during the cold months. 

Italians are serious about wardrobe changes given their reaction even to just slight temperature drops or hikes.

I know that for foreigners seeing Italians wearing coats now in September even if it’s not yet so cold can be quite shocking in the same way it is for Italians to see Americans or Germans wearing t-shirts in December. 

READ ALSO: ‘Five ways a decade of living in Italy has changed me’

But climate change is disrupting the traditional wardrobe switch. My granny used to say that the so-called ‘middle seasons’ in Italy which are those between summer and winter (she meant autumn and spring) were luckily very long and pleasant. But nowadays even Italy has very short springs and autumns. In recent years there’s been a sudden jump from hot summers to half-winter seasons. 

This affects the way Italians are dressing, as I see fewer leather jackets around or raincoats unless it’s actually raining. The other day I was swimming in a pool and in the afternoon when I came back home there was a strong wind and I had to put on my piumino (long duvet coat) plus a hat. 

Luckily I have a huge walk-in closet so the left part is for winter, the right part is for summer and in between are all those items that used to fall within my granny’s ‘middle seasons’. So I always have everything at hand to cope even with the uncontrolled effects of climate change.

Friends of mine are already going into depression because they’re planning the wardrobe switch for next weekend – but they already miss the summer and don’t want to give up on the sexy shorts and elegant sandals. 

There’s no doubt about it: when it comes to clothes, most Italians can be very fussy indeed.

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