New Year's Eve in Germany is also known as Silvester, named in honor of Pope Silvester who died on December 31, 335 AD. It's celebrated with a mixture of animistic and Germanic rituals and Christian beliefs: loud noises drive ghosts and evil away, other traditions bring luck, predictions for the new year are read in molten lead poured in cold water (Bleigießen), and church bells ring across the country to announce the arrival of a new year. In Germany, most stores close around 2 pm on the 31st of December, and almost all are closed on New Year's Day. On the last day of the year, people make sure they have everything they need to host their parties or holiday dinners.
At midnight, fireworks are lit, noisemakers hum, and people go out into the streets or onto their balconies to watch the show. The ideas below bring you the most representative traditions and the most delicious recipes to try no matter where in the world you want to celebrate your German-inspired New Year.
New Year's Supper Parties
It is a tradition in Germany 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 satiated all year long." Carp appears on many menus for New Year's Eve but eating poultry is believed to make your money fly away. A late supper with food preparation at the table like a fondue, Raclette and especially a hot stone dinner is a prominent and popular pastime:
Natural stones are heated in the oven or stovetop, then placed on a wooden tray on the table. While the stones keep their high temperature fairly well, guests cook any of a wide variety of marinated meats, fish, and shrimp in a low-fat, low-carbs at-the-table preparation. The meat is then served with yogurt, tomato, or sour cream-based sauces, and carb-heavy sides like potatoes and bread.
Melt and broil Raclette cheese in a table-top broiler and then serve it on top of boiled potatoes and bread, with condiments such as cornichons, pearl onions, pepper, and paprika.
Fondue parties are still a popular pastime on Silvester. While cheese fondue is very filling, meat fondue 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 to cool off. Bread and salad are common sides.
New Year's Eve Drinks
New Year's Eve drinks in Germany are most often alcoholic punches and bubbly Sekt, a sparkling wine made in the traditional Charmat method. There are many, delicious sparklers from Germany, made from Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Grigio grapes in Germany and Welschriesling and Grüner Vetliner grapes in Austria. Other non-traditional but delightful bottles include rosés from Spätburgunder grapes (Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay blanc from a few Sektkellerei (champagne houses).
You can find great party punch recipes for celebrating, but Feuerzangenbowle, a festive punch with mulled wine as a base is a staple of Silvester. A rum-soaked sugarloaf is placed over the hot wine, lit in the darkened room, and burned. The caramelized sugar drips into the bowl, which is then stirred and served.
New Year's Day Dishes
Many foods are thought to bring luck and are eaten on Neujahrstag, New Year's Day:
Lentil soup is thought to bring abundance and money as the lentils are shaped like coins.
Sauerkraut is also considered lucky because you might receive as many blessings as shreds of cabbage.
Crispy waffles shaped like sugar cones are often baked and filled with whipped cream to symbolize abundance.
Candy and baked goods are exchanged as gifts, shaped in braids, pretzels, pigs, trees, rabbits, human forms, and horseshoes. Glückspfennig (lucky penny) is either real or made of chocolate and covered with gold foil.
Marzipanschweinchen, little pigs sculpted out of marzipan are often given, as well as Marienkäfer (ladybugs) made out of marzipan or chocolate.
Rummelpottlauf is a tradition in which children and adults go from house to house singing silly songs and begging for sweets and treats while using masks and costumes and playing a Rummelpott (a type of drum). The sweets the children are given vary, but traditionally Förtchen, a sort of doughy pancake ball, is amongst them. The Rummelpottlauf happens on the last day of the year.