2014 is just around the corner. Some German new year’s traditions are pretty familiar – drinking sparkling wine, watching fireworks – but a few others might make you shake your head and say, “Wie, bitte?” Here are a few offbeat German new year’s traditions… and the stories behind them.
New Year’s Eve is called Silvester in Germany. This name comes from Pope Sylvester I, who lived in the fourth century. He was canonized by the Catholic Church, and his saint’s day is December 31. No actors or cartoon cats to be found. That fact was for free and doesn’t even count towards our list! Here we go…
German new year’s traditions: melted lead, good slipping, sweet pigs, a lady and her butler?!
Is that a spoon, a deer or a star? Photo by: Eric Delcroix
What does the new year have in store for you? Germans have a funny way of predicting the future. They melt bits of lead over a candle flame, pour the lead into a bowl of cold water, then find what shape each re-hardened piece looks like. A lion predicts you’ll make good friends, while a bell means you will inherit some money.
2. Guten Rutsch
Second in our list of German new year’s traditions is to wish people a “guten Rutsch” (a good slip). Why would you want to slip into the new year? The best guess is that it comes from the Yiddish phrase “Rosh ha-Shana tov” (a good new year, or literally, a good head-of-the-year). So a guten Rutsch is really a wish for a good start to the year.
The tastiest of the German new year’s traditions is to give your loved ones a lucky pig, often made out of marzipan. Not full-size, please!
Photo by: Luke Montague
4. Dinner for One
This has got to be my favorite of the German new year’s traditions. It is a German tradition to watch the recording of a play called Dinner for One on New Year’s Eve. Miss Sophie is hosting a dinner for her 90th birthday. But she’s outlived all her guests, so her butler James plays the parts of all four gentlemen, PLUS his butler duties. Each guest has a different accent, and of course each of them gives a toast to Miss Sophie at each course of the meal. With each guest’s toast, James gets more toasted. I won’t spoil the ending for you, though! Once you’ve seen the original, try the Lego version.
German new year’s traditions from Oma
I asked a couple of Germans for some family traditions, and here’s what I got.
5. Don’t do laundry!
Don’t wash your bed linens between Christmas and New Year. The superstitious believe that if you do, someone in your family will die. One friend’s grandma would give her clean bedsheets for Christmas, just so she’d have an extra set. You can survive a few more days in those sheets!
6. The food also rises
Have some bread on January 1. If you eat food that has risen (dough, noodles, anything with yeast), your money will also “grow” in the next year. And here are some other German new year’s traditions around food!
Photo by: Margrit
7. Mary Poppins had it right
Chim-chim-cheree! Remember the chimney sweep who said touching him brings you luck? Or blowing a kiss? It’s even luckier at New Year’s. They make party poppers (crackers) which burst out with chimney sweeps for the new year. Quadruple your luck by kissing a chimney sweep on Silvester. Pucker up!
There you have it: seven German New Year’s traditions you probably never knew about. Now go melt some lead, follow the same procedure as every year, and have a good slip into 2014!