Feast and Fast

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The New Year

In Madrid, Spain, people count down the last minutes of the old year by popping grapes into their mouths.

In the southern part of the U.S., black-eyed peas are eaten on New Year's Day for good luck.

In Japan, New Year's food is red snapper, which brings good luck because of its color, which the Japanese consider lucky.

In southern India, boiled rice is a New Year's food.

In Hungary, a roast pig, with a four-leaf clover in its mouth, is prepared for New Year's.

In Greece, a cake called peta is baked with a coin inside it. The person who gets the slice with the coin will have special luck in the coming year.

The Jewish New Year is celebrated with apples dipped in honey.

The Buddhist New Year is celebrated in Tibet with a dish called guthok, which is made of nine special ingredients, including a piece of charcoal. The person who gets the charcoal is said to have an evil heart.

Presidents' Birthdays

Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12, 1809, had a fondness for homemade pies. During his presidency, women from his home state of Illinois frequently mailed him their apple pies.

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. His favorite dessert was hazelnuts, and his favorite vegetable was onions.

April Fools' Day

In France, a person who is fooled on this day is called poisson d'Avril, an “April fish.” Chocolate fish are the treats for the day. In the U.S. at one time, people poured chocolate over pieces of cotton on April 1, to fool others with “cotton candy.”


In the U.S., kids dunk for apples in tubs of water, drink apple cider, and eat cakes and cookies decorated with orange and black icing. In Ireland, where Halloween customs began, traditional foods are barm brach (a raisin bread), colcannon (baked kale and potatoes), and oatmeal porridge.

Thanksgiving Day

The first Thanksgiving meal celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans included turkey, venison (deer meat), lobster, fish, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and popcorn.


This eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights is celebrated with doughnuts or potato pancakes (latkes), which are fried in oil. This is a reminder of the oil that burned in the temple for eight days.


Some traditional Christmas Eve meals are meatless. Italians eat fish soup called zuppa di pesce. The Irish eat oyster stew.

Christmas dinner in Denmark is traditionally roast goose. In Greece, it's roast leg of lamb, and in Hungary it's chicken paprikash (paprika-flavored).

In the island nation of New Zealand, the Christmas meal is a picnic eaten on one of the beaches.

Fat Tuesday

The day before Lent is called Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. Traditionally, people made pancakes to use up their butter and eggs, which were not allowed during Lent.


Kwanza means “first” in Swahili, an African language. This name was picked for the American feast because many African tribes celebrate the first harvest of crops.

Kwanza is an African-American feast celebrated from December 26 to January 1. Sweet potatoes and banana custard with raisins are traditional fare.


People can live without food for a few weeks, but they cannot live without water for more than a few days.

To fast is not to eat at all or not to eat certain foods for a period of time. Usually people fast for religious reasons. Some people have fasted for political or health reasons, too.

Muslims fast from dawn to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan so that their sins will be forgiven. Before dawn they eat a meal called suhur. After sunset they eat a meal called iflar.

Jews fast on the holy day of Yom Kippur to atone for their wrongdoings. From sunset to sunset they do not eat or drink anything, not even water.

Christians fast during Lent, 40 days that commemorate the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert. At one time bread and water were the only foods allowed during Lent. Later, meat was the only forbidden food. Today, people fast in many ways, mainly by giving up favorite foods.

Mahatma Gandhi fasted seventeen times while he was the leader of the people of India. He fasted to be close to the people who were starving and to protest violence.

Cesar Chavez, a leader of the American farmworkers, fasted to stop violence in the struggle for equal rights and fair pay for the workers. His fast lasted 26 days.

Mark Twain, the American writer, thought fasting was a cure for illness. He would cure his colds and fevers by not eating for one or two days.

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