The earliest recorded New Year festivities date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal (spring) equinox — the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness — heralded the start of a new year.
The early Roman calendar created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, consisted of 304 days, with each new year beginning at the spring equinox. A later emperor is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. emperor Julius Caesar solved the problem by introducing the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries use today.
As part of his reform, Caesar designated January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honour the month’s namesake Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future.
Different cultures celebrate New Year at different times — for example Chinese New Year coincides with the second new moon after the winter solstice — but all festivities include favourite foods. Here is a selection of family faves.
NACHOS WITH CORIANDER CHUTNEY
Coriander Chutney: 1 large bunch (50g) coriander leaves and stems, roughly chopped
1 green chilli, chopped (seeded, if preferred)
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
pinch each: sugar, salt
Nachos: 170 bag corn chips
400g can black beans, drained and mashed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 medium plum tomatoes, sliced
3-4 cups grated tasty cheese
1/4 cup tamarind sauce
To make the chutney, place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and mix until smooth-ish. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to bring it to pouring consistency.
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Line an oven tray with foil (Alternatively, make 4 individual servings.)
Arrange half the corn chips in a single layer on the foil. Top with the beans, onion, tomatoes and cheese. Repeat to make a second layer. Bake for about 10 minutes until the cheese is melted.
Dot the tamarind sauce and coriander chutney over the top. Great served with sour cream with a few added toasted cumin seeds. Serves 4.
PICCALILLI & CHEESE PINWHEELS
My husband’s favourite preserve rolled up in pastry with cheese.
150g grated tasty cheese
3 tablespoons chopped piccalilli
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 sheets ready rolled flaky pastry
1 small egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper
Combine the cheese, piccalilli and mustard. Spread over both sheets of pastry. Tightly roll into logs. Trim the ends then cut each log into about 1cm rounds. Place on the baking tray, cut-sides up. Brush with the egg.
Bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Don’t overcook or the filling will ooze out.
Serve warm or store in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in a 180°C oven for about 5 minutes. Makes 20.
OLIVE & POMEGRANATE SPREAD
This chunky tapenade makes a great topping for crostini, bruschetta or crackers
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup brined pitted green olives
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoons each: chopped French tarragon, parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons each: pomegranate molasses, olive oil
Lightly toast the walnuts in a 180°C oven or the microwave. Cool.
Place the walnuts and olives in a food processor and finely chop.
Spoon into a bowl and add the pomegranate seeds, herbs, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Can be covered and stored in the frig for 3-4 days. Makes about 1 cup.