New Year’s Eve, or Silvester in German-speaking countries, is celebrated with dances (Silvester Balle), Fireworks and bells. It’s also the saint day of Silvester, a fourth-century Pope.
At the stroke of midnight, much like in America, celebrants wish one another ein gutes neues Jahr and toast the year with champagne or German Sekt. After that, there is no similarity to New Year’s in America. Church bells begin peeling raucously and fireworks explode from every direction so that the noise drives the evil spirits out of the coming year. Fireworks are readily available (although common sense is advised and you must be 18 years of age to buy and shoot the larger fireworks off without adult supervision.)
‘Bleigießen’ is another German New Year’s Eve custom, which involves telling fortunes by the shapes made by – previously molten lead- and now wax dropped into cold water. Other luck bringing things are touching a chimney sweeper or have him rub some ash onto your forehead for good luck and health. Traditionally jelly filled doughnuts with and without liquor fillings are eaten. Finally a tiny marzipan pig is consumed for more good luck.
A lesser-known German custom is to watch “Dinner for One” every New Year’s Eve on TV. Based on a British cabaret sketch, the classic black-and-white movie was filmed in 1963 in Hamburg. It’s virtually unknown in England but broadcasts every year in Germany and several other European countries. One website noted that “a German New Year’s Eve just doesn’t seem right without hearing the lines known to just about any living German: ‘The same procedure as every year, James.’”
Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year’s Eve celebrations in all of Europe which is attended by over a million people. The focal point is the Brandenburg Gate and the fireworks at midnight are centered on that location. Germans have a reputation for spending large amounts of money on firecrackers and fireworks, and so fireworks are to be seen all over the country on this night.
Why do we clink our glasses when drinking a toast?
In medieval times, a common way to kill an enemy was to offer him a poisoned drink. To prove to the guest that a drink was safe, the host would receive a small amount of the guest’s drink in his own glass, and both would drink at the same time. If the guest trusted the host, rather than pouring some of his drink into the host’s glass he would simply clink his glass against it.
Although offering a poisoned drink is no longer a popular way to kill someone, the custom of clinking glasses still remains. Also, in medieval times, the sound of bells was thought to scare off the Devil. The Devil was thought to frequent festive occasions, so the bell-like sound of glasses clinking was often heard at such events.