New Year’s Eve has never been one of my favourite holidays – there always seems to be so much pressure to ring in the New Year in as much style as possible. In Canada, it’s common to go to a house party with friends or family and celebrate with appetizers and a glass or two of bubbly.
Despite living in Germany for over 2 years now (and having visited once before during Christmastime), I only experienced my first German New Year’s Eve last year. Called Silvester in German after Saint Silvester, New Year’s Eve is a much-loved holiday in Germany and is joyously celebrated throughout the country.
Below I’ve listed a few German Silvester traditions that I’ve come to know since moving to Germany.
Feuerzangenbowle (“fire tongs punch”) is a classic German New Year’s Eve drink. Often served at parties and large gatherings, this punch is created by soaking a sugar loaf (Zuckerhut) in rum, lighting it on fire, and letting the sugar caramelize and then drip into wine spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise and orange peel. In order to light properly, the rum should be warmed to room temperature before being drizzled onto the sugar loaf. Once the sugar loaf has melted, the punch is served in mugs and kept warm over a burner or low flame. Feuerzangenbowle packs a punch and definitely gets you into a festive mood!
(Here’s a video of my first Feuerzangenbowle experience – yes, that’s me ‘oooing’ once they’re lit!)
“Dinner for One”
“Dinner for One” is a British comedy sketch that is played on several television stations in Germany on New Year’s Eve. This single-take, black and white 1963 recording is a cult television classic not only in Germany, but also in many other European countries such as Finland, Estonia, Austria, Switzerland and Lithuania. The comedy sketch features two characters, an upper-class Englishwoman named Miss Sophie and her manservant James. At the celebration dinner Miss Sophie is hosting, James has more than his share to drink and hilarity ensues. On any given New Year’s Eve, up to half of the population of Germany will sit down to watch “Dinner for One” at some point during the evening. Though relatively unknown in Britain and never aired in North America, “Dinner for One” is the most frequently televised program of all time.
Fortune-telling is a long-standing tradition on New Year’s Eve in Germany, Austria and many Nordic countries. Molybdomancy (called Bleigießen in Germany) is the practice of pouring molten lead or tin into water and interpreting the resulting shape to predict your fortune. A small amount of lead or tin is melted in a tablespoon which is held over a flame and is then poured into a bowl of cold water. The shape can be interpreted literally as an omen for the future or symbolically based on its appearance. For example, bubbles on the surface can signify money, while a broken or misshapen piece can signify misfortune. I have yet to try Bleigießen myself but would like to give it a go!
Possibly my favourite German New Year’s Eve tradition is eating raclette. I was first introduced to raclette last year and can’t imagine a better (or more delicious) way to ring in the New Year. Swiss raclette, a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese, is melted in small individual pans (called coupelles) on an electric tabletop grill. The melted cheese is then poured over top of a variety of vegetables, such as potatoes, pickles, and onions, as well as charcuterie. The vegetables can also be topped with cheese first and then melted on the grill. The entire raclette meal is relaxed and leisurely, often lasting for several hours. Leading up to New Year’s Eve, you’ll see German supermarkets stocked with ready-sliced cheese and grill apparatus for raclette parties. Give it a try – you won’t regret it!
Fireworks are hugely popular on New Year’s Eve in Germany, not only at large city gatherings but also around neighbourhood homes. The three days leading up to Silvester are the only days of the year when fireworks are allowed to be sold. You can hear fireworks going off like crazy at midnight and for a few hours afterward. In fact, last year we heard a few ‘practice’ fireworks around 3pm on December 31st! Large cities like Berlin host huge fireworks displays, but you can often catch a fireworks show in many smaller towns throughout Germany.
However you choose to celebrate, I wish you a very Happy New Year!
How do you celebrate New Year’s Eve? Have you incorporated any new traditions as an expat? Let me know in the comments below!