Silvester und das neue Jahr
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The following practices and traditions, known in German as Neujahrsbräuche, are associated with the beginning of the new year in German-speaking countries:
Bleigießen (pron. BLYE-ghee-sen)
“Lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict 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.
“Dinner for One”
“The same procedure as every year, James.” This English line has become a familiar catchphrase in the German-speaking world. It’s part of an annual German custom that began in 1963 when German TV first broadcast a 14-minute British stage sketch entitled “Dinner for One.”
Feuerwerk (pron. FOY-er-VEHRK)
Fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) are not unique to German-speaking Europe. People all over the world use fireworks (private or government-sponsored) to welcome in the New Year and drive out evil spirits with loud noises and sparkling, flashing pyrotechnics.
Feuerzangenbowle (pron. FOY-er-TSANGEN-bow-luh)
In addition to champagne or Sekt (German sparkling wine), wine, or beer, Feuerzangenbowle (“flaming fire tongs punch”) is a popular traditional German New Year’s drink. The only drawback for this tasty punch is that it is more complicated to prepare than a normal bottled or canned beverage.
Part of the popularity of Feuerzangenbowle is based on a classic novel of the same name by Heinrich Spoerl (1887-1955) and the 1944 film version starring the popular German actor Heinz Rühmann. The hot punch drink’s main ingredients are Rotwein, Rum, Orangen, Zitronen, Zimt und Gewürznelken (red wine, rum, oranges, lemons, cinnamon, and cloves). See the following recipe for details:
Die Fledermaus (pron. dee FLAY-der-mouse)
Austrians have a long tradition of welcoming the New Year with a performance of DIE FLEDERMAUS operetta (1874) by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899). Musical sentiments like “Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ändern ist…” (“Happy is he who forgets what can’t be changed…”) and the story of a masquerade ball make this popular Operette appropriate for the New Year. Besides the annual New Year’s Day performance, both Vienna’s Volksoper and Staatsoper offer more performances of the most popular of Strauss’ operettas in January.
A New Year’s performance of DIE FLEDERMAUS (“The Bat”) is also a tradition in Prague, in neighboring Czech Republic, as well as in many other parts of the world. English versions of DIE FLEDERMAUS by John Mortimer, Paul Czonka and Ariane Theslöf, or Ruth and Thomas Martin (and other translators) are performed frequently in the US and other English-speaking countries.
Die Fledermaus – Staatsoper – The operetta story (in German) from the Vienna State Opera
Neujahrskarte (pron. NOY-yahrs-KAR-tuh)
Some Germans prefer to send a New Year’s card rather than a Christmas card. They wish their friends and family “Ein gutes und gesegnetes neues Jahr!” (“a good and blessed New Year”) or simply “Prosit Neujahr!” (“Happy New Year!”). Some also use the New Year’s card to tell family and friends about events in their life during the past year.