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

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

It’s an Italian tradition to eat lentils just after the stroke of midnight on Dec 31st.

Go to any supermarket in Italy on Dec 31st and the shelf of lentils will be empty. They are sold out and not even the biggest of supermarkets can keep them in stock.

Lentils are sold out! /Photo C. Abernethy, Picfair

Eating lentils is a tradition that dates to ancient Roman times. To mark the New Year and to wish friends and neighbors prosperity, the ancient Romans would gift a scarsella, a leather purse full of lentils, with the wish that they would turn into gold coins.

The coin shaped lentils symbolize prosperity and once cooked, increase in size, evoking the idea of ​​abundance.

Traditionally, lentils should be eaten just after the stroke of midnight.  The more lentils you eat, the more the new year will be full of wealth, luck, and prosperity.

Cenone di Capodanno, New Year’s Dinner

Lenticchie con cotechino / Di Popo le Chien, Wikimedia

In addition to a full four-course meal, Lenticchie con cotechino is the traditional dish served after midnight. Cotechino is a sausage made of mixed pork cuts seasoned with salt and spices and is cooked slowly over low heat.

Another popular meat served in Italy with lentils is zampone, trotter, made with a mixture of pork cuts, salt and spices, wrapped in a casing formed like a pig’s leg. 

San Silvestro

Di Crescens Lajos Dedek – Szentek élete / Wikimedia

December 31st is Saint Sylvester Day, marking the death of Pope Sylvester I, elected pope in 314 AD.  He performed many miracles, slayed a deadly dragon, and is best remembered for converting Constantine of Constantinople to Catholicism, introducing the Catholic faith to the African continent.    

If your name is Sylvester or a variant of, then your onomastico, name day, is Dec 31st and the party is all for you!

Happy New Year to all!

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Article by Celia Abernethy for Easy Milano

Easy Milano

Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
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  1. Wear Something Red on New Year's Eve | Milanostyle

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