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New Year's Eve customs in Germany

Silke Wünsch | Elizabeth Grenier | Suzanne Cords
December 31, 2022

All over the world, people celebrate the turn of the year. Time-honored German traditions include fireworks, champagne, lucky charms — and the ritual of watching a certain TV sketch.

A person wearing glasses with the number 2023.

New Year's celebrations were either non-existent or muted for the past two years during the coronavirus pandemic in Germany. This year, some people are ready to party again, and usher in 2023 with a bang.

Yet some customs may fall by the wayside or are being questioned because of climate change, the war in Ukraine or rising costs.

Still, some people want to maintain popular New Year's Eve traditions in Germany, from eating festive dishes to watching a decades-old TV sketch many people can't seem to do without at the end of the year.  

Film still Dinner for One, a man pours a drink for a woman seated at a table.
Beloved tradition: The TV sketch 'Dinner for One'Image: Siegfried Pilz/United Archives/picture alliance

Dinner for One

In 1963, a British skit entitled "Dinner for One" was shown on German television for the first time. Ever since, it has had millions of Germans glued to their TV screens for 18 minutes every year in the afternoon or early evening hours of the last day of the year. The story: Miss Sophie has dinner with four male friends, albeit imagined, as they are all deceased, to celebrate her 90th birthday. James, her butler, impersonates them, drinks up every one of their glasses to toast her, and gets progressively drunker, which leads to hilarious moments.

Raclette oven on a table, bread, veggies on top of the grill, hand places a small pan with potatoes and cheese into the grill.
Raclette is a favorite dish for a New Year's Eve dinner Image: Daniel Maurer/dpa/picture alliance

Raclette for everyone

New Year's Eve parties in Germany usually include buffets or fingerfood. Smaller groups might sit around a table for hours, enjoying typical New Year's Eve fare like fondue or raclette, a popular cheese-based dish originally from Switzerland. They are fun and tasty, and can keep people occupied for hours as midnight gets closer. But beware: eating too many fondue skewers or too much cheese might induce a "food coma."

Man wearing red gloves and a cap holding a fish outside, with a tree and the sun in the background.
Carp, anyone?Image: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

New Year's carp

Another traditional German New Year's Eve dish is carp. Baked, fried or grilled, the fish is considered one of the lucky charms at the turn of the year. Superstition has it that if you put a scale from the fish in your wallet, you will be blessed with money in the coming year.

Tiny pots of four-leaf clover with chimney sweep figures.
Tiny pots of four-leaf clover with chimney sweep figures are meant to bring good luckImage: Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa/picture alliance

Lucky charms

Some people will dismiss them as silly superstitions, but lucky charms are simply part of New Year's Eve. From little pigs, ladybugs and chimney sweeps to four-leaf clovers, and even Chinese fortune cookies — they are all supposed to stand for a new year full of joy and happiness.

Five small crumpled looking metal objects.
Use your imagination! Image: Peter Steffen/dpa/picture alliance

Pouring lead

Even the Romans had fun pouring liquid lead and predicting the future from the shape the molten lead takes on when slipped into cold water. In Germany, it has been a traditional New Year's Eve custom for decades. Lead is toxic, so people now use alternatives such as tin or wax. A small figurine on a spoon is melted over a candle flame, then the liquid is tipped into a bowl of cold water, where it solidifies into a shape wide open to interpretation. Does it look like a dragon? That would mean good luck! Or does it look more like a rabbit with a whistle? If so, danger might loom. There is no limit to the imagination.

Fireworks display in the sky at night.
A tradition in many countries: enjoying fireworks to ring in the New YearImage: Lars Klemmer/dpa/picture alliance


All over the world, fireworks are a tradition on New Year's Eve. In Germany, people spend more than €100 million ($106 million) on rockets and firecrackers. They only go on sale a few days before New Year's Eve — for good reason, since some people start firing away as soon as they get their hands on them. Every year, experts warn people to make sure they only buy tested products for safety reasons.

Environmental sin?

In recent years, fireworks have come under criticism in Germany. The focus is not so much on the risk of injury as on the environmental impact. "New Year's Eve fireworks blow as much particulate matter into the air in two hours as all the road traffic in Germany does in two months," says Jürgen Resch of Environmental Action Germany (DUH).

Dog looking at unlit firecrackers on the ground.
Dogs are afraid of the sudden, often ear-splitting noise of fireworksImage: Emica Elvedji/PIXSELL/picture alliance

Fireworks with caution

Due to the COVID pandemic, there were no public New Year's Eve fireworks events in Germany in 2020/21, and celebrations last year were also muted. An increasing number of initiatives are campaigning to scale back fireworks in general, which is sure to please dog owners, as canines are afraid of the noise and can even suffer heart attacks.

Fireworks and two glasses of champagne against a black background.
Cheers to the New Year!Image: Gudrun Münz/vizualeasy/picture alliance

A glass of champagne

 A glass of champagne at midnight is a must in Germany. People toast and hug each other, and wish everyone a Happy New Year. Trying to call friends and family takes patience at that time, as cell phone networks are regularly overloaded.

Ashtray with a cigarette against a black background.
"I'm going to stop smoking" is a staple among NYE resolutionsImage: Romain Fellens/picture alliance

New Year's resolutions

New Year's resolutions are another time-honored tradition. Most Germans want less stress in 2023 and more time for themselves and their friends and families, according to a Forsa survey. Significantly more people than in the previous year said they planned to live more frugally — no surprise given the massive rise in costs and other developments in 2022. The classics like "exercise more" have been joined by "eat less meat." "Stop smoking" came in last, which is not surprising as a great many Germans gave up smoking long ago.

This article was originally written in German.

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture