New Year’s traditions in Pennsylvania: why pork and sauerkraut?

Posted by Jamie Oberdick on 12/31, 2013 at 05:00 PM

New Year’s traditions in Pennsylvania: why pork and sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut in jars photo courtesy of Flickr user JoePhoto via Creative Commons License

Many people are aware of the New Year’s tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut, including the supposed good luck and wealth it brings. This tradition is part of our Pennsylvania German heritage; the idea of sauerkraut symbolizing wealth for the new year comes from Germany. Before having the New Year’s dinner, each diner wishes the other as much wealth as there are shreds of cabbage in a pot of sauerkraut.

What about pork? Interestingly enough, the actions of a pig give us this New Year’s tradition.

The Pennsylvania Dutch note that while turkeys and chickens scratch backwards, a pig roots forward. So apparently, moving forward is luckier than moving backwards, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

Another, perhaps more interesting tradition is “shooting in the New Year’s.” The tradition is described below via the website of the Lynn-Heidelberg Historical Society:

Shooting in the New Year
The last day of the year, all the people went “to shoot in New Year.” Sometimes there were crowds of twenty or thirty together, starting at midnight and going from house to house, shooting the old year out and New Year in. On all these occasions, it was customary to have plenty of apple-jack and to give as much as people wanted to drink.

Editor’s note:
The shooting was not all of it; beautiful verses of the scriptures and hymns were committed to memory, and repeated under the windows of those who were visited by them. They went through storm and snow. “En glickselig nei yohr” was heard on all sides, each vying with each other to be first in the greeting among friends, or strangers.

“The New Year Wishers” party, Neuyohr Wunschers, usually consisted of the reciter (wunscher) and several shooters. The party assembled at the home of the leader and at midnight set out for the homes of friends and neighbors. The Wunschers would arrange themselves beneath the window where the master was sleeping. The leader called out the farmer’s name and asked permission for them to give the wish. If this was agreeable, the wunscher would unroll his broadside and chant the wish. After the chant then they fired the guns and were invited into the house to a warm stove. Refreshments such as hot mince pies and brandy or rum were added to the customary cakes, apples and cider. After the treat, the party continued their way through storm and snow to the next farm house.

I can only imagine this practice became more and more dangerous as the shooters had more apple jack with each house.

If you’ve had too much apple jack or any other adult celebratory beverage at New Year’s Eve and want a simple pork and sauerkraut recipe, here’s a basic one you can do in a crock pot:


- 1 3-4 lb Hogs Galore pork loin roast
- 2-3 cups sauerkraut, including liquid
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds
- salt and pepper to taste (add this late in the cooking and taste first; sauerkraut might be salty enough for you)


- Cut pork roast to fit into crockpot
- Add caraway and celery seeds
- pour sauerkraut over crockpot
- Cook on high for around an hour, then cook on low for 5-6 hours
- A half hour before serving, add any pepper and salt.

{name} Author: Jamie Oberdick

Bio: Editor, Local Food Journey | Passionate about supporting local food in Central PA


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