Sylvester - New Year's Eve in Germany

The 31st of December is called Sylvester in Germany.

Frohes Neues Jahr! Happy New Year! よいおとしを!Buon anno! Feliz Año NuevoBonne année ! Feliz Ano Novo!

Maybe you have also heart or will hear Germans saying: „Ich wünsche Dir einen guten Rutsch“, which literally translates to „have a good slide“.
An explanation for this expression might be the Jiddish New Years term „rosch ha Schanah“ – which literally translates to Head of the Year or in German „Kopf des Jahres.“ Apparently in Jews used the term „a git Rosch“ (a good head) before and after the holidays. Linguists think that there was a misunderstanding and it was translated to German as „guter Rutsch“. Other linguists relate the expression to the German word „Rutsch“ to be interpreted as „journey“.

New Year's Eve (31st of December) 

Be aware shops have reduced opening hours and everything is closed on the 1st of January. New Year's Eve is traditionally a partial non-working day. Many employers give their workers at least part of the day off.

New Year at home with family and friends

Get together with family/friends to eat and await the New Year. Food usually served is Fondue, Raclette or buffet style of everything you enjoy. Germans love to drink champagne or sparling wine („Sekt“ / „Prosecco“) or Bowle, which is a German word for Punch from fruits, juice with or without alcohol. There are a lot of different ways.

After eating you enjoy time together and/or play games and/or watch TV programs related to New Year’s Eve as the famous „Dinner for one“ on TV.The British sketch „Dinner for One“ is aired every year (in English) and very popular. An aristocrat woman celebrates her 90th birthday and her butler, covering for her absent guests, gets really drunk.
The rest of the TV evening is filled with humorous sketches, game shows and images of public celebrations in large cities.

One custom to spent time before midnight is looking into the future by melting lead. It is called „Bleigiessen“. You melt small quantities of lead on a spoon above a candle, then tipp it into a bowl of cold water where it solidifies into a strange shape. The shape that the lead takes on is a symbol for the fortunes of the coming year. Each set contains a list with what the shape could be and what it means. You can buy sets at supermarkets, DIY markets. 

Some people mark the end of the old year and the start of the new year by attending a church service that culminates at midnight.

Public Sylvesterparties

If you are up for it,  you go to a public Sylvester Party, which can be really huge. Either you just join the crowd on the street as in bigger cities/towns there are public celebrations with music and more. Or you get yourself tickets for a organized Sylvesterparty with a band or a DJ and an evening program.

What happens at midnight?

Usually before midnight everybody heads out for the countdown and to welcome the New Year with a big bang -  fireworks and fire crackers. Traditionally, loud noises were believed to drive out evil spirits.

Many people drink and toast with champagne or sparkling wine. If you are at home, get out and celebrate with your neighbors. There is a special expression to toast the New Year– many say „Frohes Neues Jahr“ (Happy New Year) but you might also hear „Prosit Neujahr“. „Prosit“ is orginated in Latin and means „may it be useful to you“.

 You can buy consumer fireworks in the normal supermarkets or DIY markets for good quality and safety right after Christmas, 3 days before the New Year. There are different categories of fireworks/crackers depening on their risk of usage. You have to be either 12, 16 or 18 years old to be able to purchase them.

Lucky charms

If invited to a someone’s house it is quite popular to bring some lucky charms for New Year’s. Lucky charms are four-leaf clovers, Glückspilze (lucky mushrooms), ladybugs and little pigs and chimney sweepers as symbols for good luck. All this comes as baked goods, Marzipan (almond past), in the form os flowers etc. – just look in your local markets / shops / bakeries – you can find them everywhere.

„Sternsinger“ (star singers)

Another tradition is the Sternsinger (or star singers) who go from house to house, sing a song and collect money for a childrens charity (this is a predominantly Catholic tradition). The singers are normally children, who dress up like the Wise men and Kings. When they're finished singing, they write a signature with chalk over the door of the house or place a sticker above your door with the initials. 20*C+M+B+19.

They translate to "Christus mansionem benedicat" - „May Christ bless this house“. The star is a sing for the Star of Bethlehem, the 3 crosses symbolize the blessing: In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and the numbers are the respective year.

It is considered to be bad luck to wash the sign away - it has to fade by itself. It has usually faded by the 6th of January (Epiphany). The Sternsingers visit houses between December 27th and January 6th. You can usually sign up at your local church, if you want them to visit you.

Vierschanzentournee (Ski Jumping)

Over Christmas and the New Year in Germany and Austria, the famous „Vierschanzentournee“ is held. It starts in Germany with Oberstdorf (Germany) on the 29th or 30th December and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) on New Year's Day and continues in Austria with Innsbruck (Austria) on 3rd or 4th of January and Bischofshofen (Austria) on the 6th January. It is quite famous for Germans to watch it.

November 2018 by Kira Neumann
This blog post is a personal recommendation and based on personal experience. It has been prepared with the greatest possible care and does not claim to be correct, complete or up-to-date.“ Picture credit: Brigitte Tohm

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