Silvester (New Year’s Eve)

silvester fireworks

Just like in so many oth­er coun­tries, Ger­mans cel­e­brate on the evening of Decem­ber 31st lead­ing up to the arrival of the new year at mid­night. How­ev­er, there are quite a few par­tic­u­lar­i­ties that set the Ger­man New Year’s tra­di­tions apart.

Silvester

The first dif­fer­ence you’re like­ly to notice is when Ger­man talk about New Year’s Eve: they call it “Sil­vester.” This is because Decem­ber 31st is the Feast of St. Sylvester

It’s not clear why the saint should be so espe­cial­ly well remem­bered in Ger­many, since there’s not much con­crete known about him besides the fact that he served as pope from 314 to 335. Leg­ends about him abound, includ­ing that he cured Con­stan­tine I, emper­or of Rome, of lep­rosy. In any case, Catholic records con­firm his death on Decem­ber 31, 335, and New Year cel­e­bra­tions in Ger­many at least com­mem­o­rate the day of his death by speak­ing his name.

Kirchenglocken

Many Ger­man New Year tra­di­tions are root­ed in both Chris­t­ian and ear­li­er pagan tra­di­tions. The advent of the new year was always a time for mak­ing an enor­mous amount of noise to scare off evil spir­its. Today we more com­mon­ly asso­ciate the sound of church bells with mark­ing time and occa­sions to cel­e­brate. Either way, you’ll hear a cho­rus of church bells from all over the city at mid­night!

Feuerwerk

The most mem­o­rable part of any Ger­man New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tion is the fire­works show. It’s easy to scoff at the idea, since we’ve all seen fire­works for var­i­ous hol­i­days, but liv­ing through the mid­night extrav­a­gan­za in a Ger­man city such as Stuttgart is tru­ly a unique expe­ri­ence.

Although children’s fire­crack­ers (Klasse I fire­works) can be pur­chased and used at any time of year, true fire­works (Klasse II fire­works) are only avail­able for sale from Decem­ber 28th to Decem­ber 31st. Fur­ther­more, they are only allowed to be set off for the New Year cel­e­bra­tion on Decem­ber 31st and Jan­u­ary 1st (unless you apply for a spe­cial event license). Yet some­how in that four-day peri­od Ger­mans man­age to pur­chase an incred­i­ble quan­ti­ty and vari­ety of fire­works: in fact, Ger­mans annu­al­ly spend more than 100 mil­lion euros on fire­works for per­son­al use!

As a result, the New Year fire­works show is no care­ful­ly chore­o­graphed dis­play put on in one part of the city. Rather, it seems like the sky is explod­ing as indi­vid­u­als in every neigh­bor­hood go out­side and set off their trove of fire­works. Peo­ple stand on their bal­conies and out on the street, often vying to out­do their neigh­bors. It is a per­fect­ly won­der­ful exam­ple of con­tained anar­chy.

There always used to be an espe­cial­ly amaz­ing fire­works dis­play in the Schloss­platz in front of the Neue Schloss. How­ev­er, due to envi­ron­men­tal activism aimed at reduc­ing the prob­lem of fine par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion, start­ing in 2019 there will be no fire­works there or in the sur­round­ing downtown area. Instead, the city will put on a lights show and con­cert.

On New Year’s Day, be sure to watch out for debris in the streets and parks out­side the city cen­ter. There a risk that sharp met­al or glass pieces could punc­ture a bicy­cle tire or child’s shoe sole. It usu­al­ly takes the city of Stuttgart a cou­ple of days after the hol­i­day to get every­thing cleaned up.

Good Luck

The new year is a time to wish your friends and loved ones good luck! The most com­mon expres­sion is “Ich wün­sche einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” or just “guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” Lit­er­al­ly you wish each oth­er a good “slide” into the new year.

If you go to a New Year’s Eve par­ty, you’ll want to bring your host and host­ess some kind of lucky token in the shape of a pig, four-leafed clover, lady­bug, or horse­shoe. Such lucky charms are also some­times exchanged between friends.

Some Ger­mans also par­tic­i­pate in tra­di­tions for pre­dict­ing what will come in the next year. It starts with ask­ing a spe­cif­ic ques­tion about a par­tic­u­lar per­son­’s upcom­ing year. Some peo­ple then open the Bible and read a pas­sage at ran­dom to shed light on the ques­tion. Oth­ers lim­it the ques­tions to ones that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and use a pen­du­lum to find the answer.

Festive Food and Drink

In Ger­many as every­where else, the hol­i­day is an excuse to indulge in spe­cial rich foods and alco­holic bev­er­ages.

Inter­est­ing­ly, two of the most pop­u­lar dish­es to enjoy on New Year’s Eve are actu­al­ly from Switzer­land: fon­due and raclette. Both involve gath­er­ing around a com­mu­nal table and grad­u­al­ly cook­ing the meal serv­ing by serv­ing. Tra­di­tion­al fon­due starts with a hot pot of oil or broth. Each guest has one or more long sharp forks onto which meat and some­times veg­eta­bles are speared so they can be held in the pot until cooked. Of course there are also cheese and choco­late vari­a­tions that are pop­u­lar as well. Raclette cen­ters around a spe­cial mini stove range. Each guest has their own mini pan or spat­u­la to cook each serv­ing. The most tra­di­tion­al raclette serv­ing con­sists of a round slice of pota­to topped with a slice of a par­tic­u­lar Swiss cheese, heat­ed until the cheese melts, but oth­er veg­eta­bles may be includ­ed, too.

Berlin­er Pfannkuchen (filled donuts) are a pop­u­lar New Year’s treat. A Berlin­er is most com­mon­ly filled with jel­ly, but for New Year’s they may also con­tain spe­cial choco­late, vanil­la, or eggnog fill­ings.

Ger­mans love their Sekt, their word for all kinds of sparkling wine. You can expect a toast to the new year at mid­night at the very least. Anoth­er tra­di­tion­al drink is called Feuerzan­gen­bowle, lit­er­al­ly trans­lat­ed as “flam­ing fire-tongs punch.” It is based on the Christ­mas favorite Glüh­wein (mulled wine), but rum, cit­rus fruits like oranges and lemons, as well as spices like cin­na­mon and cloves are added.

Shopping

Whether you want to buy some Berlin­ers at the bak­ery, get the ingre­di­ents for Feuerzan­gen­bowle, or find the per­fect luck token for a host­ess, make sure you plan ahead a lit­tle! In Ger­many there is a half day off on Decem­ber 31st and a full day off on Jan­u­ary 1st. Most shops will be closed after 12:00 or 13:00 on New Year’s Eve, and some won’t open either day.

Neujahrskarte

It’s com­mon in Ger­many to send a New Year’s card to fam­i­ly and friends. This may include wish­es for good luck, hap­pi­ness, health, and so on in the new year. Some peo­ple also use the card as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to give updates about the events and activ­i­ties in their lives over the past year. If you’re used to send­ing Christ­mas cards, con­sid­er using your stay in Ger­many as an excuse for a bonus week to get them done!