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Silvester und das neue Jahr

New Year’s Eve in German

Saint Sylvester and the New Year

Also see German and Austrian New Year's Customs

When the old year ends and a new one dawns, Germans celebrate like most people around the world. Parties and fireworks are the norm, although many people choose to spend Silvester quietly at home watching "Dinner for One" on TV. (More about this interesting custom below.)

One of your first Neujahrsvorsätze could be to learn at least five new German words a day, starting with the word for "New Year's resolution"! You can learn at least one a day with our Wort des Tages.

Before we turn to the New Year's Glossary, let's talk a bit about Saint Sylvester, der heilige Silvester. We don't know when he was born, but he was pope (Papst) from 314 until he died in Rome on December 31, 335. Legend says that Pope Sylvester cured Roman emperor Constantine I of leprosy (after converting him to Christianity, of course), for which the grateful emperor supposedly gave the pope the so-called Donation of Constantine, granting him extensive rights to land and power. (This gift now seems to be a forgery going back to the 8th century.) St. Sylvester's relics were moved to the Church of San Silvestro in Capite, Italy in 762. San Silvestro (St. Sylvester) is now the national church of English Catholics in Rome, and St. Sylvester's feast day, December 31 (New Year's Eve), is called Silvester or Silvesterabend in German. (For more about Silvester and Sylvester, in German, see the Lexikon Kirche und Religion from the German Catholic Church.)

It is all too easy to forget, however, that New Year's Day has not always been January 1—even on the Christian calendar! In the early Middle Ages most of Christian Europe celebrated the beginning of each new year on March 25 (Annunciation Day). The Anglo-Saxons started the new year on March 1 until William the Conqueror made January 1 New Year's Day. (But England later returned to the March 25 date.) Although the Julian calendar of Rome had set January 1 as the start of the year, it was not until 1582, with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, that most of Europe began the new year on the first day of January. Pope Gregory had the assistance of the German Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius (1537-1612) in refining his new calendar, but the Gregorian calendar was not adopted in German Protestant regions until 1700—and even later in many parts of the world such as Britain (1751) and Russia (1918).

So, as the old year ends and the Neujahr gets off to what we all hope is a good start, I wish you "einen guten Rutsch!" (Be sure to learn about the possible origin of that German expression in our glossary. - Also see our article on "Dinner for One," an interesting German New Year's tradition!

More about New Year's Customs in German-speaking Europe:

New Year's Glossary
Our English-German dictionary for the new year.

German and Austrian New Year's Customs
A guide to some of the more popular New Year's customs in German-speaking Europe.

“Dinner for One”
Every year Germans gather 'round the TV set to welcome the New Year by watching a short British sketch - in English!

New Year's Greetings
Send a free German e-card with your New Year's greetings!

German Christmas Recipes
Recipes of the season - in German and English.

Date and Time Glossary
Our annotated English-German dictionary for telling the date and time in German.

Wort des Tages
Learn a brand new German word each weekday this year!


German Newsletters
Our free online German course.

German Chat

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