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Celebrating New Year's Eve in Germany

Twelve midnight on New Year's Eve, and instantly the sky is alive with multicolored stars from every type of large and loud firework imaginable...the louder the better.

Noise is crucial for Silvester in Germany and, accompanying the deafening bangs, cracks and whistles echoing through the night air, the sound of countless church bells ringing in the New Year.

If Christmas in Germany is a time of contemplation and quiet enjoyment, then a German New Year is one of noise and exuberance.

The evening is usually spent with family and friends, but streets still fill with revelers and firework displays are everywhere.

From small groups to the over one million people, many of them tourists, at the largest New Year celebration in Europe. Alongside the Brandenburg Gate in Germany's capital, Berlin.

An old year has come to an end and a new year begun.

December 31 is Silvester, New Year's Eve; feast day for Saint Sylvester, a Pope who died in Rome on December 31, 335 A.D.

In the days and hours leading up to midnight on Silvesterabend Germans will wish each other "Einen guten Rutsch". "A Good Slide" into the New Year.

As the clock strikes twelve this becomes - 10.9.8.7.6.5.4.3.2.1 "Prosit Neujahr!", "Cheers to the New Year!".

At once the greeting changes to "Ein glückliches neues Jahr", "A Happy New Year"; and this is used whenever seeing people for the first time in the New Year.

Traditions are enjoyed and treasured in Germany, and those that celebrate "Silvester und das neue Jahr" are no exception.

Some customs can be traced to the Rauhnächte, "Rough Nights". Rituals followed by pagan Germanic tribes "zwischen den Jahren". From winter solstice, December 21-22 until January 5-6.

After the Gregorian calendar was reformed in 1582, December 31 became the last day of the year for most of Europe, which coincided with what became New Year's Eve as well as linking to the twelve days of Christmas.

Germany's Protestant regions did not adopt the new calendar until 1700 though.

Boundaries between "Spirit" and "Real" world were thought to be weakened during "Rauhnächte", so fires and loud noise were used to drive away evil spirits, while it was believed mystical powers such as forecasting the future became possible.

Prediction remains a favorite old Silvester custom with Bleigiessen, "Lead Pouring". A form of fortune telling with small pieces of lead, in various shapes, melted in a spoon and poured into cold water where they hardened into forms that symbolized the coming year.

As lead is poisonous sets using lead have been banned in Germany, and "Bleigiessen fans", which is most Germans, have for some years before the ban been urged to use pure wax, bees wax for example, or tin, to continue their annual tradition.

This they do...can't give up Bleigiessen.

A "Flower" shape means new friendships in the coming year for example, a "Ring" or "Circle" is a wedding, a "Fish" brings luck while a "Rocket" is a journey into the unknown.

Another tradition rarely missed is a fourteen minute black and white TV program A Dinner For One, an obscure 1963 German production of a 1920's British slapstick comedy that most Britons know nothing about but, subtitled and in English, is cult New Year's Eve viewing in Germany.

Its catchphrases "The same procedure as last year, Madam?", and "The same procedure as every year, James", bring festivities to a halt for eighteen minutes as everyone watches a ninetieth birthday dinner party set in an old English mansion.

A slight problem being that the four guests who used to attend every year have passed on.

The Butler not only serves but takes the place of all of them, becoming steadily more "wobbly" with each toast as the dinner proceeds, and the wine glasses belonging to the guests are emptied. And here it is so you can see it for yourself: Dinner For One,

Feuerzangenbowle, Fire Tongs Punch a Glühwein, mulled wine but with a definite "fiery kick" in more ways than one as it can catch fire, joins sparkling wine as a favorite New Year's Eve drink.

While the evening meal is usually shared with family or friends as eating in the company of those closest symbolized protection from demons in times gone by.

Of course "Food" also has its share of traditions. There is the obligatory Lucky Jelly Donut after midnight, but that is just one of many customs.

And a few of the others are:

A little of everything on the plate must be left until midnight has passed as this should ensure a year with enough to eat, while some things must not find their way onto either a New Year's Eve or New Year's Day table.

Including anything that once had feathers.

An old superstition says the year's good luck and happiness will fly away from anyone who eats poultry. Although those living in the Rhineland ignore this as one of the favorite meals there is "Neuejahrsgans", which is much like Cologne Roast Goose a specialty of their largest city.

Eating fish of any type, served in whatever way, is a time honored tradition and if it is Carp, Silvesterkarpfen, one of the carp's fish scales hidden in a wallet for the entire year is supposed to bring wealth to its owner. While scales hidden throughout the home boost the bank balances of everyone who lives there.

Pea, Bean, Lentil or Carrot soup brings blessings and wealth in the New Year. As does eating Sauerkraut, when the guests must wish each other as much happiness and money as there are strips of cabbage in the dish of Sauerkraut.

Nevertheless whether made from almond paste, chocolate or brass with a cent fixed upon it, or served as Schnitzel, Pork Roast, or sausages, Wurstchen, it is the "Glück Sweine", "Good Luck Pig", that in all its forms is believed to bring most luck and good fortune in the coming year.

The typical New Year gift of a Four Leaf Clover Plant has an overload of good luck symbols, as it usually shares its pot with a "Glückspilz" - a red toadstool with white spots, and often a "small pig", a "lucky" ladybird, a horseshoe, and of course the star a Chimney Sweep to attract good luck while his broom sweeps away the old year.

In addition it is a bad idea to get up late on New Year's Day, unless it is worth the risk of nightmares and sleeping badly for the entire year. So a bright and early start to the year is a must.

Besides it is time to start working on all those New Year's resolutions.





New Year Fireworks in a village near Garmisch Partenkirchen, Bleigiessen, photographer Micha L. Riese


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