When I lived in Japan, one of the tastiest menus that I learned was how to prepare the traditional New Year's food. First introduced during the Heinan Period, osechi-ryori is basically a bento (boxed lunch) prepared in advance, stored in a cool place, and reheated when it is to be eaten during the first three days of the new year. Each dish and ingredient in osechi has meaning, such as good health, fertility, good harvest, happiness, and long life.
Cleaning up everything from the previous year and starting the new year with a clean slate complete with nourishing healthy food is very culturally important!
Here are some of the ingredients and their significance.
Mochi The only description I could find about mochi was along the lines of "wishes for many healthy family generations". This chewy, puffy form of pounded rice is so delicious and nourishing wrapped with nori and drizzled with shoyu. Mochi is also an ingredient in ozouni soup and is placed at the front door with special New Year's decorations.
Black Soybeans (Kuromame)
These sweet and hearty beans signify good health, vitality, wealth, abundance, and prosperity. These are typically made these days with sugar and shoyu, though the macrobiotic way is to replace these with natural handmade mirin, brown rice syrup, and unpasteurized, fermented shoyu.
Soba Noodles Long life
Kombu (seaweed) Usually made into kombu maki (as seen on the left), this represents joy.
Nishime A slow simmered vegetable dish signifying "harmonious family relationships".
Renkon/Lotus Root This is an auspicious food, because you can see through the holes of the root "into the future."
Datemaki Sweet rolled omelette mixed with fish paste which symbolizes wishes for many auspicious days filled with gold, wealth, fertility, and children. I learned how to make it with tofu and millet (also, minus the fish paste).
Usually made into a dish called "kinpira gobo". This symbolizes "wishing for luck to split and multiply."
There are other foods that I haven't mentioned here.
Have a safe, happy, healthy, and abundant new year everyone!