Sunday, January 1, 2012

Some New Year’s Eve Traditions

What did you do on New Year’s Eve? Do you have any traditions for celebrating the end of the year? German immigrants to Munichburg called New Year’s Eve “Silvester Night.” That name, Silvesterabend, is used in the church records of the German churches in Jefferson City, because folks went to church that night and collections were recorded as taken on Silvesterabend.

The German families in Jefferson City traditionally ate some kind of seafood on Silvester Night, or the next day, New Year’s Day, so they would have money in their pockets in the new year.

Herring seemed to be preferred when I was a kid, but oysters were common around 1900. Some churches, like Central United Church of Christ, had “oyster suppers.” Believe it or not, there was even an “oyster and ice cream supper,” and the church ladies were divided into four different committees to procure the food for it: oysters, cream, eggs, and lard (apparently for frying the oysters).

A centuries-old custom in Germany on Silvester Night was to melt a little bit of lead in a spoon over a candle (lead has a low melting point), then let it drop into a glass of cold water. It instantly cooled into all sorts of weird shapes. The oldest one in the family then interpreted the shapes and told the person’s future for the coming year, somewhat like reading tea leaves or reading palms.

I have not found any record of dropping molten lead into water on Silvester Night in Jefferson City, but there are some local folks who know that German tradition very well, probably from family stories handed down.

This tradition is called in German Bleigiessen (BLY-ghee-sen), or “lead pouring.” Within the last decade Bleigiessen has come back in Germany as a kind of fun game for Silvester Night parties, with the fortune-teller dressed like a gypsy.

Shall we get together next year and try it?


Addendum: I recently found out that, to reduce toxic and environmentally hazardous waste, and to reduce consumption of a limited mineral resource, the German government has for some time prohibited the manufacture of lead for Silvesterabend, so Germans have been importing lead for that purpose from China. Now the German government has banned the sale of China-imported lead, so the Germans will have no supply of lead for Silvesterabend. It will be a dying tradition in Germany.

But perhaps the Germans will become inventive. Some Civil War reenactors, bent on total authenticity, can’t find lead to make authentic musket balls, so they salvage the lead weights used to balance car wheels and melt them down. But then again, balancing car tires will soon no doubt be done with other materials, too. It’s for the best.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.


This year, we hope you’ll join the Old Munichburg Association. Membership dues help fund all sorts of good projects aimed at improving our neighborhood.

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