GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — In the U.S., we have relatively few national New Year’s Eve traditions. Many watch the ball drop in Times Square from the warmth of their home; some kiss at midnight; others sip champagne and party until daybreak.
But, in Germany, citizens enjoy an array of fairly unusual New Year’s Eve, or Silvester, traditions.
Perhaps the oddest of these is watching “Dinner for One,” a short 15-minute British movie performed in English. The sketch plays on repeat on almost every channel and is watched religiously by Germans every New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
The plot follows the 90th birthday party of British upper-class matron, Miss Sophie, and her interactions with her butler, James. Given Miss Sophie’s considerable age, the four guests who always attended her dinner party in the past have passed away. This leaves James to impersonate each guest around the dinner table.
After each toast (in which he must drink four times) and each course, James gets increasingly drunker and clumsier.
The wacky sketch is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, even in Britain where it originates. In Germany, however, it is much loved and an essential part of Silvester.
Another well-loved tradition is Bleigiessen, or “lead pouring.” A small amount of lead (though for obvious reasons wax is mostly used these days) is melted on a spoon over a candle flame.
It is then poured into a bowl of very cold water where it immediately hardens into a shape. Whatever image the shape represents is supposed to predict tidings for the new year.
Certain shapes have designated meanings. A cow represents healing; a flower, new friendship; and a cross, death. Bleigiessen kits can be bought at any German grocery store. For a list of the meanings, go to www.mrshea.com/germusa/customs/bleimean.htm.
The Feuerzangenbowle, or flaming wine bowl, is another favorite Silvester pastime.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: A large copper kettle is filled with wine, sugar and rum, heated over a flame and served to revelers outside.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2014.