New Year’s Eve – the German Way

In Germany the last day of the year is called Silvester. And that’s not the only thing that makes a German New Year’s Eve special. Below I compiled a few links to point out and explain some of the predominant peculiarities. But first, please enjoy what generations of Germans have been watching on this day since 1963: Der 90. Geburtstag or Dinner For One – a TV special that has become a national cult. Produced in Germany with British comedians.

Never mind the German introduction, the sketch switches to English after 2:30 minutes.

Sherry with the soup, white wine with the fish, Champagne with the bird… The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie? — The same procedure as every year, James!

Surprisingly, while practically everybody in Germany knows this skit and considers it to be indespensable for a New Year’s Eve, hardly anyone in Britain or the US is familiar with it. Outside of Germany, Dinner for One is also watched in Austria & Switzerland, parts of Scandinavia, South Africa and Australia – a true crosscultural phenomenon.

Why Silvester, you ask?

No, your friend isn’t planning to ring in the new year with someone named Sylvester instead of you. Silvester is the German name for New Year’s Eve – owing to the fourth century Pope Sylvester I. Eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church, his feast day is observed on December 31. St. Sylvester’s day became associated with New Year’s Eve with the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year was fixed at December 31. But despite the holiday’s Christian name, many German New Year’s traditions can be traced back to the pagan Rauhnächte practices of heathen Germanic tribes, which took place at the end of December and beginning of January.

What else is typical for Silvester?
How about Bleigießen – or melting lead?

Bleigießen (pron. BLYE-ghee-sen)
“Lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death.

Also quintessential:

  • the midnight fireworks
  • on Silvester, good luck charms and New Year’s greetings are often exchanged. Acquaintances may give good luck charms to each other in the form of ladybugs, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and pigs.
  • the Neujahrskonzert (New Year’s Conert) of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra which is broadcast around the world (usually in more than 50 countries and to an audience of appr. one billion viewers).

In addition to wishing each other Ein Gutes/Frohes Neues Jahr (a good/happy new year), during the last days of December many Germans add the phrase Guten Rutsch! to their greetings. While many Germans now use it to wish someone a good “slide” into the new year, the word Rutsch more likely comes from the Yiddish word Rosch – which means beginning or head.

In this spirit allow me to thank you for reading Southeast Schnitzel throughout the year 2013 and Prost to 2014!
Happy New Year & Frohes Neues Jahr to all of you.

ch (April'14).2Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the founder and owner of Höferle Consulting, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees oversome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Find out more about Christian and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him! Or sign up for the Höferle Consulting newsletter.

5 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve – the German Way

  1. Thanks for a good read, Christian.

    I remember first seeing “Dinner for One” about 1967 or so near Darmstadt at a friend’s home. I did not realize that this is the 90th anniversary of “Dinner for One.” In that case it pre-dates television. Darmstadt also happens to be where I first saw some years later Dame Edna on German TV. Then in person in Denver in the late 1990s.

    When I was a kid in Wisconsin, our Lutheran Church hold a “Sylvester Eve service” each year. It was not until I spent time in Germany years later that I began to understand Sylvester.

    Die entstehung von “Guten Rutsch” ist auch hier geschildert:

  2. BTW, the Colorado Symphony in Denver does a NIGHT IN VIENNA New Year’s Eve concert. They say “Ring in the New Year with this Viennese style. concert featuring polkas, waltzes, and more.”

  3. Same procedure as last year!
    I remember watching “Dinner for one” with my Grandma. When I lived in Denmark, they also showed the show on television on NYE. However, here in France, no chance. It’s funny how everyone in Germany thinks it’s a British show though 😉

    Guten Rutsch!

  4. Pingback: Time for Gratitude – A very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and an amazing New Year! | Southeast Schnitzel

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