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.
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.