New Year’s is a big deal in Germany, so much so that that the German’s have a specific name for it – Silvester. The period is rooted in old superstitions, centuries-old traditions and Christian customs, as well as a few rogue additions that have been popularized in the past few years. Considering visiting Germany for NYE or just keen to know a little more about how it’s done here? Have a read into some of the most fascinating New Year’s traditions in Germany.
German New Year’s Traditions
1. Start with a bang
We hear the guffaws, fireworks on New Year’s Eve is hardly original. But in Germany, they take it to a whole new level. Originally fireworks, or feuerwerk, were set off to scare away evil spirits. For the biggest bangs, head to Brandenburger Tor. Over one million people station themselves between Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column for an evening of live performances, DJs, light shows and a spectacular fireworks display.
Fireworks are only legally sold to consumers between December 28 and December 30, and you can only light them from December 31 to January 1.
2. Slide into the New Year
You could say ‘Happy New Year!’ to your comrades, but that would be missing the point. The most typical New Year’s greeting in Germany is, ‘Einen Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr! or Guten Rutsch! which means “A good slide into the New Year!” or “Good slide!”
No one quite knows where the phrase comes from, but it’s widely agreed that the greeting is essential for encouraging a smooth transition into the next year.
3. Food, Glorious Food
Why go into a new year on an empty stomach? Traditionally in Germany, you should eat Sauerkraut, or lentil soup to ensure you don’t run out of money in the new year. The lentils represent pennies. Carp is another traditional dish served at New Year’s and if you want to get really lucky, make sure you carry a single scale in your purse. Smelly, but essential stuff here.
Other popular New Year’s dishes include fondue and raclette, accompanied by meats, pickles and potatoes. In theory, having such a lengthy meal shortens the wait until midnight.
On another note, you shouldn’t eat bird on New Year’s Eve because your good look luck will fly straight out of the window.
4. How about a British cult classic?
Bizarrely, a short British skit called ‘Dinner for One’ now airs every year on German television on New Year’s Eve. The black-and-white 17-minute sketch first aired in 1963, but it never aired in the UK until 2018. Most British viewers have never even heard of it. It tells the story of a rich elderly woman and her butler on New Year’s eve. You’ll likely hear the catchphrase “The same procedure as every year, James” repeated at some point in the evening. The sketch has aired on December 31 since the 1960s, making it the most frequently repeated TV program ever.
5. Or fortune-telling with lead?
Bleigießen, or lead pouring, is another popular New Year’s tradition in Germany. You melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle, then pour the liquid lead into a bowl with cold water. The droppings act like tea leaves; you’re supposed to interpret the shapes to predict your luck for the coming year. For instance, if you can see an eagle, you’re in for some good luck in your new job or a frog might indicate a lottery win.
You can purchase the whole Silvesterblei kit in the lead-up to New Year.
6. Don’t forget your lucky charms
In Germany, it’s tradition to give gifts of good luck to your loved ones on New Year’s Even. These usually take the shape of a lucky charm, ranging from four-leaf clovers and ladybirds to horseshoes and regional pigs. Chimney sweeps are good luck too. Back when there wasn’t any electricity or gas, bumping into a chimney sweeper was considered good luck. Today, you’ll often find lucky charms in the shape of chimney sweeps.
7. Or your Feuerzangenbowle
Clinking bubble-filled glasses at New Year’s isn’t unique to Germany, but the process behind making this national booze certainly is. Feuerzangenbowle features mulled wine and rum, citrus fruits, ginger, sugar and spices, then lovingly prepared over a slow-burning stove. You then transfer the mixture to a punch bowl along with a rum-soaked Sugarloaf and set the whole thing on fire. Feuerzangenbowle means “flaming hot tongs punch”. If you can’t be bothered with the faff, you’ll find it at all the Christmas markets.