Growing up, I always wondered why New Year’s Eve was called Silvester, what is Sylvester? My parents always celebrated New Year’s Eve with a party… but a Sylvester Party? The whole thing is a little bit confusing…. Fortunately, there is an easy explanation!
What is Sylvester?
Pope Silvester and Emperor Constantine- Public Domaine
Ok, first let’s clear this part up. Germans call New Year’s Eve Silvester. WHY?? Well, it goes back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII modified the previously used Julian Calendar, and made everyone use the Gregorian Calendar instead. (Why? because Calendar drift was messing up scheduling Easter). To get everyone back on track, 10 days were removed (from October 5- 14th of 1582), and our current system was put into place.
Can you imagine the power to reset the calendar? That brings us back to Silvester. His Saint Day was celebrated on Dec. 31st. And after the calendar switch, his day was officially the last day of the year. People called it Saint Silvester’s Day or the Feast of Saint Silvester, and it just stuck and gets used for New Year.
(Interestingly, the Pope’s power to move the calendar around, CAME from Pope Silvester! According to legend, Pope Silvester cured Emperor Constantine of leprosy by baptizing him… in exchange, the Emperor made the Pope supreme over all rulers, even the Emperor! So you see… it all sort of makes sense.)
Want to celebrate New Year’s Eve like a German? Here are some fun New Year’s Traditions you can try!
German New Year’s Eve Traditions.