GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — In the United States, there are 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, and 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 it 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. However in Germany, it is much loved and an essential part of Silvester.
Another well-loved ancient tradition is Bleigiessen, or “lead pouring.”
Long ago, people would melt small amounts of lead (now most substitute this with wax) 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 represents new friendship and a cross represents death. Many online lists discuss the meanings of potential shapes.
Bleigiessen kits can be purchased at German grocery stores. However since 2018, “lead pouring” kit manufactures replace lead with wax due to environmental reasons.
Lastly the Feuerzangenbowle, or “flaming wine bowl,” is another favorite Silvester pastime.
It is exactly what it sounds like: A large copper kettle — filled with wine, sugar and rum — is heated over a flame and served to revelers outside.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2014.