Growing up, I always wondered why New Year’s Eve was called Silvester, and I get emails asking “what is Sylvester”? My parents always celebrated New Year’s Eve with a party… but a Silvester Party? The whole thing is a little bit confusing…. Fortunately, there is an easy explanation! And it all dates back to a pope… and a change in the calendar.
Pope Silvester and Emperor Constantine- Public Domaine
What is Sylvester … Silvester?
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. The Julian Calendar didn’t correctly line up with the actual time it took the Earth to rotate around the Sun, it was always off just a little bit… To get everyone back on track, 10 days were removed (from October 5- 14th of 1582), and our current system was put into place that included Leap Year (an extra Day every 4 years). Now we are mostly on track.
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.