The night of the Holy Sylvester, the last night of the year, has always
been the night of fun. Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year's Eve celebrations in all of Europe, attended by over a million people. The focal point is the Brandenburg Gate, where midnight fireworks are centered. Germans toast the New Year with a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne.
The saint of this day,
Pope Sylvester I, according to legend is the man who healed from leprosy
and baptized the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.
Sylvester I and Constantine
Sylvester was a Roman, the son of Rufinus. He was ordained a priest by
Marcellinus. Chosen Pope in 314, he continued the work of organizing the
peacetime Church so well begun by St. Miltiades. Sylvester saw the building
of famous churches, notably the Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica
of St. John Lateran, built near the former imperial palace of that name.
It is quite probable too that the first martyrology or list of Roman martyrs
was drawn up in his reign. St. Sylvester died in 335. He was buried in
a church which he himself had built over the Catacomb of Priscilla on
the Via Salaria. His feast is kept on December 31.
Bleigiessen ("Lead pouring") - an old German New Year tradition
In many of the German-speaking areas the change of the year is celebrated
noisily and merrily. Guests are invited, and groups
attend a "Sylvester Ball." There is eating, drinking, dancing
and singing. It may be accompanied by the popular "Sylvester"
custom of Bleigiessen. A small
piece of lead will be melted over a flame in an old spoon and dropped
into a bowl of cold water. From the shape you can supposedly tell your fortune for the coming
year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death.
At midnight, when the old year is almost gone and the new year
is about to start, glasses are filled with champagne or wine, and toasts
and hugs go with wishing each other "ein gutes neues Jahr". Some
go out into the streets and listen to the bells ringing throughout the
land. Others participate in shooting in the New Year, or put on their