TIL lemon pigs aren’t actually a New Year’s tradition at all

Very ugly lemon piglet with coin in mouth
The hellacious piglet I made at the end of 2019
Photo: Lillian Stone
Today I LearnedToday I LearnedToday I Learned is a feature where The Takeout writers share something they learned today.

I love a handicraft, which is why I found myself cramming a penny into a lemon on New Year’s Eve last year. I was trying to make a lemon pig, the allegedly traditional New Year’s totem that’s said to bring luck and prosperity in the coming year. To make a lemon pig, all you have to do is add little toothpick legs to a lemon, cut a tiny nose and mouth, and use something dainty like cloves for the pig’s eyes. As you can see in the image above, my lemon piglet resembled a red-eyed beast out of hell, largely because I used stale Craisins instead of cloves. If I summoned the horrors of 2020 with this pig, I am really, really sorry.

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Red-eyed citrus demon notwithstanding, I found myself reminiscing on my scary little piggy as 2020 draws to a close. Whoever said lemon pigs bring prosperity was clearly off their nut—but who’s behind the tradition, anyway? Personally, I found out about the tradition on 70s Dinner Party, my personal fave Twitter account:

But according to Atlas Obscura, lemon pigs aren’t actually a tradition. Well, they’re not a New Year’s Eve tradition, at least. It turns out that lemon pigs have been around for more than a century, but not as a mechanism to bring luck and prosperity in the new year. Rather, lemon pigs were marketed as a fun, cheap craft project for kids (think citrusy cornhusk doll). For example, Atlas Obscura references a 1882 magazine story featuring a nearly identical lemon pig, noting that newspapers in the 1890s also instructed readers in the art of pig construction. But there’s absolutely no mention of the lemon pig’s status as a New Year’s Eve tradition.

So what gives? It’s important to note that pigs do have some positive symbolism; in the Chinese zodiac, pigs are a symbol of wealth and good fortune. And as for the lemons? Well, lemons are shaped like pigs, I guess. A zucchini pig just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Historical frame of reference or no, lemon pigs can be a fun little addition to your personal New Year’s canon. But please, for the love of God, don’t use Craisins for the eyes.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.

DISCUSSION

Well, superstition is false by nature, so nothing is lucky.  Traditions don’t only exist in the past, by making lemon pigs a thing for what...3 years now? 70's Dinner Party has started a new tradition and can tie whatever nonsense they want to it, just like astrology and fortune cookies.  Except lemon pig is cute