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Like everyone else in the northern hemisphere, especially those who experience cold winters look forward to celebrating each start of a new year. There is something symbolic in ending one year and starting a new one. Typically, in Germany, New Year comes just a week after Christmas so when New Year is celebrated it is not with presents or even lots of good food. New Year’s Eve is traditionally named after a medieval Pope called Pope Sylvester who died on December 31st in 335 A.D., so the day before the first day of the New Year is called Silvester.

Of course, the end of 2020 has been like no other year in living memory. Most Germans, liked-19 and just about everyone else in the world we’re glad to see the end of it, because of the massive economic and social effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Germans are fervently hoping that by the time the end of 2021 comes around, the end of the restrictions and health issues will have eventuated. 

Because of the pandemic, Silvester was decidedly muted when it came around a few days ago. The German federal government had imposed quite strict restrictions on gatherings and partying, but at least the firework display timed as usual for midnight on 31st December still went ahead even though most people only watched it on TV. This was more or less the pattern all around the world!

Family and friends gathering to celebrate the last few hours of the last day of the year, with a few (or a lot of) drinks is typically the way Germans celebrate New Year. It is also typically a time when people greet each other with expressions which show warmth and hope for the New Year ahead.

Some of the more common expressions used by German speakers are given below:

  • Prosit Neujahr! This basically means “Here’s to the New Year” and probably spoken when downing a glass of champagne or other alcoholic drink as the fireworks are ready to go off and the countdown is on for the last few hours or minutes before midnight. Incidentally, die Bowle, a German punchbowl like champagne and die Sekt, a sparkling wine, are common drinks at New Year celebrations, possibly accompanied by traditional food like fondue, lentil soup and sauerkraut.
  • Ich bin in gemütlicher Runde which means “I’m in great company!” and no doubt something said when the party is going strong.
  • Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude is a bit formal but probably meant a lot this year. It can be roughly translated as “anticipation is the greatest joy.” Like a lot of German sayings, it may sound a bit odd in English, but then German speakers may think the same about sayings in English!
  • Einen Guten Rutsch is one of those odd-sounding German sayings. Literally, it means “have a good slide!” but hasn’t anything to do with slithering over on the ice, ski-ing or tobogganing. It is a reference to having a good time in the New Year, so is normally expressed before the New Year starts.
  • Das ist Schnee von Gestern. This is another rather odd German saying, which literally means “That’s a load of snow from yesterday.” It really means “forget about what I might have said, or did, that’s all over now!” or something similar. Hopefully, Covid-19 will soon become “snow from yesterday!”