Although St. Sylvester died almost 1700 years ago, his impact still is felt throughout much of the world. As the Pope in 325 CE, St. Sylvester played a role in the rise of Christianity and the fall of Paganism in Rome.
Although St. Sylvester’s role in the religious change is unknown, he and his accomplishments still are celebrated throughout much of Europe on Dec. 31 each year. Although it is said that Dec. 31 is the day that St. Sylvester died, the celebrations are often tied closely with New Year’s Eve Celebrations.
New Year’s Eve and St. Sylvester’s Day Celebrations Around the World
In Austria and Hungary, for example, café and restaurant owners will set a pig loose in his building. Private homes string a fake pig from the chandelier or ceiling. In both instances, everyone touches the pig for good luck during the upcoming year.
And in Belgium, the last child to rise from bed on Dec. 31 is nicknamed Sylvester for the year. He or she has to pay a fine to siblings. In addition, the people of Belgium believe that young a girl who does not finish her chores by sun fall will not have marriage prospects the following year.
In Germany, everyone eats a piece of the St. Sylvester’s Day carp. Many of those people also will keep scales from the fish for luck in the New Year.
In Switzerland, the men and boys sometimes dress up as Sylvesterklause in costumes made from natural materials such as twigs and moss. The men and boys travel to country houses and yodel, in return receiving coins, presents and wine. According the tradition, evil spirits come out on New Years Eve, so the men and boys carry bells and whips and perform dances to keep the demons away. The Swiss people also light bonfires and ring church bells in the countryside to celebrate the coming of the New Year.
St. Sylvester’s Day Celebrations Mirror New Year’s Even Celebrations
In many European countries, the St. Sylvester’s Day celebrations are conducted in close conjunction with New Year’s Eve celebrations. In both instances, citizens do away with the old and welcome new beginnings, much in the way that St. Sylvester did in regards to the Pagan religion. In that way, the day is an opportunity for citizens to honor St. Sylvester and his legacy.
Henderson, Helene. “Holiday Symbols and Customs.” Fourth Edition. Omnigraphics, Inc., 2009.
Ives Gilman, Benjamin. “Thoughts for St. Sylvester’s Day.” Online at Jstor.org, published 1920.