Celebrating Silvester: Neujahrsbräuche—New Year’s Customs

Every country has their own traditions for ending the old year and beginning the new year. Here are four German favourites.



Bleigießen—“Lead Pouring”

For Bleigießen a small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon and then poured into a bucket of water. It hardens into different shapes to predict what to expect in the New Year. For example, if the lead forms a ball, it means “luck will roll your way”; a heart or ring shaped formation suggests a wedding or commitment; a ship shaped formation symbolizes traveling; and a pig shaped formation means an abundance of food.


dinner for one2 dinner for one

“Dinner for One”

The butler’s question, “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” and the old lady’s reply, “The same procedure as every year, James,” are known to every German. These lines are familiar catchphrases from a short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s which has for some obscure reason become a German New Year’s tradition. Although this is a famous cult classic in Germany and several Scandinavian countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world.

Every year around Silvester (New Year’s Eve), German television broadcasts the classic, black-and-white English-language version filmed back in 1963. All across Germany, from the 31st of December to January 1st, Germans know it’s the beginning of a new year when they watch this classic.




Fireworks on Silvester are not unique to German-speaking Europe. People all over the world use fireworks to welcome in the New Year. It goes back to the old days of driving out evil spirits with loud noises and fires. While in Canada these fireworks are more publicly sponsored fireworks in central spots, in Germany the fireworks are so common that one just needs to look out of the window at midnight to see the sky light up everywhere.



In addition to Sekt (sparkling wine), Wein (wine), and Bier (beer), Feuerzangenbowle (literally “flaming fire tongs punch”) is a popular German New Year’s drink. In rum dipped sugar is lit above the punch. Part of the popularity of Feuerzangenbowle is due to a classic novel and the 1944 film version starring the popular German actor Heinz Rühmann. The ingredients are Rotwein (red wine), Rum, Orangen (oranges), Zitronen (lemons), Zimt (cinnamon) und Gewürznelken (cloves).



Neujahrskarten—New Year’s cards

Christmas cards are not very popular in Germany. If one receives a card around this time of the year it is more likely a Happy New Year’s wish (sometimes combined with a Christmas wish).

Some ways of saying Happy New Year in German are:

– Einen guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr! (Slide well into the New Year!)

– Ein frohes und gesundes neues Jahr! (A happy and healthy New Year!)

– Ein fröhliches neues Jahr! (Happy New Year!)

– Alles Gute für das Neue Jahr! (All the best for the New Year!)

– Viel Glück im Neuen Jahr! (Lots of luck for the New Year!)