The Traditions of Celebrating Silvester in Germany

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31 of each year, people in both, the United States and Germany toast to the New Year with a glass of champagne. Is that the only thing both countries have in common on New Year’s Eve? We shall see:

German-speaking countries call the 31st of December “Silvester” instead of New Year’s Eve. The name’s roots in the existence of St. Sylvester, whose feast took place on the 31st of December 335 – the day of his burial in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, Italy. Some other countries also refer to New Year’s Eve as the Feast of Saint Sylvester or Saint Sylvester’s Day. Now, what do Germans do on Silvester?

The Silvester day starts out with “Linsensuppe” for lunch. Traditionally, each lentil in the lentil soup symbolizes one Euro Coin (historically Thaler) that one will have extra in the coming year. At night, some people choose to go to parties held outside in the streets of big cities, or to clubs, bars, or private house parties. Berlin, for instance, hosts one of the largest Silvester Parties in all of Europe with millions of people attending every year. The center of this huge party is the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of freedom and unity. Many Germans, especially youth, meet up to celebrate with friends and family members. Bands play and fireworks are fired up. Germans are famous for spending large amounts of money on firecrackers and fireworks for the holiday. Naturally, for this reason, fireworks can be seen across the country on Silvester, particularly at midnight. The tradition of lighting fireworks comes from the belief that they scare away bad ghosts and spirits so that the people can start the new year fresh, leaving all bad things behind. Given the powerful and professional nature of the firework rockets for sale for Silvester, only people 18 years and older are allowed to buy and use them. However, bad burn injuries are the most common ailment in emergency rooms on Silvester night, demonstrating that sadly, children and teenagers underestimate the danger of these rockets and firecrackers.

The film “Dinner for One” became a “must watch” comedy sketch on Silvester in Germany, and it is typically broadcast several times that night. The sketch presents the 90th birthday of an upper-class Englishwoman and actually has nothing to do with New Year’s Eve. The line “the same procedure as every year” from this sketch has become a catch phrase in Germany.  While many watch the film regularly every year, some people refrain from watching TV that night and either go to or organize a party. Dancing, drinking and laughing together with friends and family members are a must at each New Year’s Eve Party. A typical German beverage that night is Feuerzangenbowle, a traditional German alcoholic drink for which rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into wine or Glühwein. To the sizzling noise of the burning rum-sugar, some like to do some “Bleigießen”, another German tradition on Silvester. This tradition is practiced by people melting lead on a spoon with the heat of a candle and then dropping the lead into cold water. The shape made by the molten lead is supposed to tell one’s fortune. Of course many foresee a lot of money, new cars, love, or the blessing of a newly born child. Teenagers usually prefer to celebrate with their peers as partying with their parents on Silvester is out and may lead to ridicule.

But, no matter where or with whom people celebrate, all count down the last seconds of the old year, and when the clock strikes midnight, people hug each other wishing one another, “a happy and healthy new year.”

 

Photo © Thomas Wolf – www.foto-tw.de

About Matthias Knobloch

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1 comments
Corinna Wensien Bienger
Corinna Wensien Bienger

We'll be celebrating Silvester in Florida this year, so we'll know the difference for sure!