"Sylvester" and New Year customs and tradition in Bavaria

As the last vestiges of Christmas goose are finished up it’s time to get ready to welcome in the New Year. In Bavaria, however you choose to celebrate you will find something just tailor-made for you. “Sylvester” - the German term for New Year’s Eve that comes from the fact that the 31st December is St. Sylvester’s day – is celebrated with festivities of all sizes from large gala dinners and balls to local festivities in cities, towns and villages across the state. Wherever you choose to see in the New Year sparkling wine and fireworks are bound to feature prominently. 

Private parties surrounded by your closest friends often involve eating a fondue or a raclette, singing, dancing and the tradition of “Bleigiessen”. A small piece of lead is melted in a spoon over candle flame and then dropped into ice cold water. From the shape formed by the hardened lead predictions are made about what is going to happen during the year. You will be amazed at how different people interpret the shapes – creativity knows no bounds! It’s great fun!

Then as midnight strikes, the church bells ring out the old year and ring in the new to the accompaniment of fireworks, champagne corks popping and people the state over wishing each other "ein gutes neues Jahr" (Happy new year).

Depending on the weather, celebrations even take place outdoors with fireworks being set off from boats on the numerous mountain lakes and groups of people thickly clad in warm coats, hats and scarves, bottles of bubbly in hand climbing up to local vantage points to watch the fireworks right across the region as the surrounding snow-covered landscape is bathed in moonlight and the sky is bright with stars. It really doesn’t get much more romantic than this!

Then it’s back indoors in the warm for a bowl of piping hot goulash soup and much later in the day on 1st January a hearty brunch of “Weisswurst” (veal sausages), pretzels and wheat beer. What a great start to the New Year!

Traditions in the Bavarian Alps

New Year's Eve Shooting in Berchtesgaden: Similar to Christmas Eve, on December 31st, numerous members of the shooting clubs use their black powder guns (Handböller) to salute the New Year. Shooting starts at 23:30 and increases in volume until midnight. Many locals set off fireworks and firecrackers as well. In numerous farms prayers are said, special candles lit and incense burned. This is called the second 'incensing' night.

Grand star procession Oberammergau: On New Year's Eve locals as well as guests accompanied by carol singers and musicians walk through Oberammergau in a "grand star"- procession. The star procession stops at such significant places as the Pilate's House, the church and in the end the house of the former Passion Play director, Georg Johann Lang, where the procession finally ends. At each station where the procession stops, the performance of the musicians ends with a fanfare and the common call "A guats nei's Jahr!" which means "A happy new year" (meeting point for the procession is the Ammergau house at 7 p.m. on Dec 31st).


Sylvester - Hotel Burg Rabenstein in Bavaria image.enlarge
Sylvester - Hotel Burg Rabenstein in Bavaria © Hotel Burg Rabenstein

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