New Year's Eve or "Silvester," so named in honor of Pope Silvester who died on December 31, 335 AD, is celebrated with a mixture of animalistic and Germanic rituals and Christian beliefs. Loud noises drive ghosts and evil away and many different gestures bring luck and portend the future in the new year.
What do people do on Silvester in Germany?
Many shops close around 2 pm New Year's Eve in Germany and are closed on New Year's day, as well, so most people make sure they do their last grocery shopping for any parties or holiday dinners. You can buy tickets to large parties sponsored by companies where you dance, drink and eat the night away. Others choose to celebrate in a smaller circle of friends and family.
At midnight, fireworks are lit and noisemakers hum. Revelers crowd the streets, or at least their balconies to watch the show. They drink "Sekt" and kiss. Later, they indulge in a "Mitternachtssuppe" (midnight soup) or jelly donuts called "Berliner" or "Pfannekuchen." They also may watch certain movies on television, do "Bleigießen" (lead pouring) to look into the future, and listen to the church bells ring in the new year. More on German New Year's customs here.
Afternoon Activities on New Year's Eve
In parts of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, the "Rummelpottlauf" occurs in which children (or adults) go from house to house singing silly songs and begging for sweets (or schnapps). The "Rummelpott" is a type of drum which accompanies their music and keeps the rhythm. It surfaces in this fashion for "Martinstag" and Carnival as well. The sweets the children are given vary, but traditionally "Förtchen," are among them. Also known as Aebleskiver (Danish Pancake Balls), they are akin to a jelly donut but baked in a special pan.
New Year's Drinks
New Year's Eve drinks in Germany are most often alcoholic punches and bubbly (champagne and "Sekt").
"Sekt" is a sparkling wine made in the traditional ("methode champenoise") or charmat method in Germany. There are many, delicious sparklers from Germany, made from Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris grapes in Germany and Welschriesling and Grüner Vetliner grapes in Austria. Non-traditional but delightful bottles are also rosés from "Spätburgunder" grapes (Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay blanc de blancs from a few "Sektkellerei" (champagne houses).
The "Sektkellerei" with the largest share of the German market (35%) is "Rottkäppchen Sektkellerei GmbH" (lit. Little Red Riding Hood Champagne House). Coming out of eastern Germany, its tradition of making sparkling wine since 1894 was continued in the GDR (German Democratic Republic or "East Germany"), and it has since made inroads into western Germany as well. It also owns Mumm, another well-known brand of sparkling wine. Other German market leaders are Henkell & Co. and Schloss Wachenheim A.G.
You can find great party punch recipes for celebrating but the most well-know in Germany is the "Feuerzangenbowle". This festive, participation punch has mulled wine (Glühwein) for a base. A rum-soaked sugarloaf is placed over the hot wine, lighted (in the darkened room) and burned. The caramelized sugar is allowed to drip into the bowl, which is then stirred and served. Here is a non-alcoholic version made with black tea and fruit juice.
It is a tradition to eat well on New Year's Eve and New Year's day. After all, "Wer über die Jahre gut schmaust, hat das ganze Jahr vollauf" meaning "He who eats well through the New Year will be sated all year long."
A late supper, with interactive food preparation at the table, is a prominent and popular past time. These small parties are usually fondue, Raclette or hot stone parties. Carp is also a traditional New Year's Eve dish (and a popular Christmas Eve dish as well).
Hot stone grilling has once again become popular in Germany. The natural stones are heated in the oven or stove top, then placed in a wooden tray on the table. The stones hold their heat at about 500°F (260°C) for quite awhile and sometimes come with optional burners for longer grilling.
Low fat and low carbs are combined with at-the-table preparation of a wide variety of meats, fish and shrimp, often marinated. The meat is then served with several sauces which are conventionally yogurt, tomato or sour cream-based. Bread, quesadillas, potatoes and many other cooked foods can also be finished at the table as the guest sees fit.
Raclette sets often come with an optional hot stone on top, but their main purpose is to melt and broil Raclette cheese in a table-top broiler. The melted cheese is served on top of boiled potatoes, with condiments such as cornichons, pearl onions, pepper and paprika.
- Learn more about Raclette cheese here
- Have a Raclette party
- Raclette grills to buy
- Recipe for Raclette with Savory Streusel Toppings
Cheese and meat fondues are still a popular past time on "Silvester." While cheese fondue is very filling, meat fondue, particularly when cooked in broth rather than oil, is seen as a lighter meal and can be varied according to the guests' tastes. The meat is cooked on the fondue forks in the hot broth or oil and then dipped in various sauces (like the hot stone grill) to cool the meat and add interest. Bread and salad are common sides.
- Meat Fondue with Broth
- Cheese Fondue
- See more about Fondue Parties here and a
- list of fondue recipes here.
Carp also figure on many menus for New Year's Eve. The head of the family should place one of the scales under his plate while he eats and then keep it in his wallet for the rest of the year, which will keep his wallet full. Think twice before you roast a bird, though. Eating poultry on New Year's will ensure that your money flies away!
Foods eaten on New Year's Day
Many foods are thought to bring luck and are eaten on "Neujahrstag." For example, lentil soup is thought to be lucky when eaten on the first of January because the lentils are shaped like coins and thought to bring wealth into your life. Sauerkraut is also considered a lucky food in some parts of Germany. Crispy waffles, shaped like sugar cones (for ice cream) are often baked and served, which are filled with whipped cream and symbolize abundance. Bake these crispy treats like pancakes and roll them hot.
And don't forget food and candy given as gifts. Often figures made out of bread ("Gebildbrot") are made and given. Common motifs include braids, pretzels, pigs, trees, rabbits, human forms and horseshoes. Pigs are considered lucky and "Marzipanschweinchen," little pigs sculpted out of marzipan are often given, as well as Marienkäfer (lady bugs) out of marzipan or chocolate. The "Glückspfennig" (lucky penny) is either real or made of chocolate and covered with gold foil.