German traditions on New Year's Eve
It's a special night that is celebrated around the world, but Germans have their own set of traditions on New Year's Eve, which they call "Silvester."
Slide into the New Year
Shortly before New Year's Eve, people you meet will typically wish you a "Guten Rutsch," which literally translates as "have a good slide." The expression could come from the Yiddish word "rosch." Rosh Hashanah, the name of the Jewish New Year, is, however, set in the fall on a different date every year. Other linguists relate the expression to the archaic German meaning of "Rutsch" - a journey.
If a German gives you a little gift like this one New Year's Eve you're allowed to find it ugly, but you should at least know the intention is to bring you good luck for the new year. Lucky charms in Germany include four-leaf clovers, horse shoes, red and white mushrooms, chimney sweeps and little pigs.
Prepare a big bowl of 'Bowle'
Germans might believe that "Bowle" is an English word, but it's not at all — though it's probably derived from the word "bowl" — as you need a huge one to serve it. "Bowle" is a German term for punch. For many Germans, this is a must-have party drink on New Year's Eve. Typically combining fruits, alcohol, and juice, there are countless recipes, including delicious alcohol-free variations.
Enjoy hours of food
Although you might end up at a party with a buffet of finger food, many people choose dishes that can be eaten over several hours as their last meal of the year, such as fondue, in which pieces of meat are cooked in hot oil. Also popular is raclette (pictured), where cheese is melted on a table-top grill, accompanied by meats, pickles and potatoes. The long meal shortens the wait until midnight.
Look into the future by melting lead
For this New Year's Eve custom, people heat a little piece of lead or tin melt in a spoon held over a small flame, and then drop it quickly into cold water. The strange shapes it then takes on are supposed to reveal what the year will bring. This fortune-telling method is called "Bleigiessen" (lead pouring), but alternatives to lead as a raw material are now being used after it was banned.
Laugh with the cult classic 'Dinner for One'
In 1963, a British sketch, "Dinner for One," was broadcast for the first time on German TV — and has been aired on December 31 for many years, becoming the most frequently repeated TV program ever. It's in English, but the humor is easy to get. An aristocrat woman celebrates her 90th birthday; her butler, covering for her absent guests, gets drunk, repeating "the same procedure as every year."
Wish a Happy New Year
After counting down the last seconds of the year, you can kiss the people you love, wish everyone the best for the upcoming year and contact your family and friends who aren't with you. "Frohes neues Jahr" is German for Happy New Year. Some people might light sparklers like this woman, but many Germans have more ambitious fireworks ready to be lit at midnight...
Start the New Year with a bang
In 2020 and 2021 fireworks have been banned due to COVID restrictions. But traditionally they can be seen everywhere at midnight. In Germany, consumer fireworks can be legally sold over the last three days of the year to be lit for the big night. Some people stock up to put on a bombastic show for the neighbors. Traditionally, loud noises were believed to drive out evil spirits.
Drink a glass of 'Sekt' at midnight
Clinking glasses might not be as loud as fireworks; filled with champagne or "Sekt" (German sparkling wine), they can definitely help people get in good spirits. The midnight toast is an international tradition, but the Germans have a specific expression to say cheers that night: "Prosit Neujahr." The word "Prosit" comes from Latin and means "may it succeed."