By Emma Harvey
On New Year’s Eve, people around the world reflect on the past year and look to the future, usually with resolutions and goals in mind. Many take part in certain New Year’s customs. In Germany, people celebrate by saying “Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!“ ("have a good slide into the new year!") in the run-up to Silvester (named after Saint Sylvester’s Day, December 31st) and Neujahrstag.
Here is a run-down of some of Germany’s New Year traditions.
1. Fireworks – On New Year’s Eve, fireworks are set off around the country. Although this tradition is not unique to Germany, on Silvester, the skies are lit up in different colours. Often it is so loud at midnight, that you can hardly hear your loved one’s wishing you a “Happy New Year!” Traditionally, fireworks were believed to drive away evil spirits. Therefore, not only the light, but the noise has always been important throughout Germany. The largest fireworks display takes place in Berlin. The celebrations line the streets between Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column. Not to spoil the fun, but on a serious note, in recent years, there has been a growing concern about the improper use of fireworks in Germany, due to injuries and the environmental damage caused. Read more about it here: English // Deutsch
2. “The same procedure as every year” – Since 1963, millions of people across Germany have sat down in front of their television screens on New Year’s Eve and watched “Dinner for One”, a British comedy sketch. The sketch revolves around the 90th birthday of Miss Sophie, an upper-class woman, who is hosting a dinner for her friends, aided by her butler, James. Sadly, Miss Sophie has outlasted all her friends, so her butler has to reluctantly pretend to impersonate her guests and drink all their wine of course. Oddly, the majority of British people have never heard of this short film, unless they have an affinity for German culture, are multilingual speakers or have German friends and relatives.
3. Lucky charms – To bring luck in the new year, family and friends often exchange Glücksbringer. These charms often come in the form of Glückspilze (lucky mushrooms), small pigs, ladybirds, chimney sweeps and clovers. All these charms are supposed to bring a new year full of happiness and luck to the recipient.
4. Bleigießen – On New Year’s Eve, many Germans heat small pieces of metal (traditionally lead) in a spoon over a small flame, and quickly drop it into cold water. The metal hardens into a strange shape, which is supposed to reveal what the new year will bring. For example, the metal could form a flower, signifying that you will make new friends, or a ball, meaning good luck is rolling your way. Whilst this tradition is called lead pouring, alternative metals are used nowadays.
5. Raclette – This traditional melted-cheese dish, stemming from Switzerland, is very popular in Germany and Austria, particularly on New Year’s Eve. Cheese is melted on a table-top grill and poured over potatoes, meats or vegetables. People sit around the table for hours eating this delicious food in order to pass the time until midnight. Warning: you may fall into a food coma if you are not careful!
6. Eat a Berliner – Just to clarify, people from Berlin are not at risk! Traditionally on New Year’s Eve, Germans eat Berliner (doughnuts) filled with jam at midnight with their glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine). I am not sure if this is a widespread tradition, but at least in my family, there is a small risk of biting into a special doughnut filled with mustard instead of jam, which is undoubtedly disgusting, but is supposed to bring you luck!
7. Chancellor’s New Year’s speech – Every year, people across Germany sit down in front of their television screens, to listen to the Bundeskanzler’s New Year’s Speech. This year, Angela Merkel will again address the people of Germany on New Year’s Eve. To read this year’s speech, click here: 2019 New Year’s Address. See here for further reaction.
8. Prosit Neu Jahr! – At midnight, glasses filled with Sekt clink together and the phrases “Prosit Neu Jahr!” (a ‘Trinkspruch‘ or toast – equivalent to “Cheers to the New Year”) and “Frohes Neues Jahr!” resound throughout Germany. Fireworks are launched into the sky and sparklers are swirled around in the dark. Family and friends embrace each other and lovers kiss.
9. Frohes Neues Jahr! – Many Germans send each other a New Year’s card, instead of or as well as Christmas cards. Furthermore, as a child, I used to walk from my Oma and Opa’s house around the block with my friend, knocking on doors to wish people a “Frohes Neues Jahr!”
10. Where to spend New Year’s in Germany: For information on where to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Germany, have a look at Anwesha Ray’s Article “The Best New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Germany”
Liebe Leserinnen und Leser,
Ich wünsche Ihnen frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!
For curious minds: