Saint Sylvester's Day

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Saint Sylvester's Day
Feast of Saint Sylvester
Sylvester I and Constantine.jpg
Also calledSilvester
Observed byAnglicanism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Reformed
SignificanceFeast Day of Pope Saint Sylvester I
Final day of the Gregorian calendar
CelebrationsFireworks, Theatre-going, Feasting, Making a toast, Partying[1]
ObservancesAttending Midnight Mass or a Watchnight service
Date31 December (Western Christian Churches)
2 January (Eastern Christian Churches)
Related toNew Year's Eve, Christmastide, New Year's Day, Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Saint Sylvester's Day, also known as Silvester (also spelled Sylvester, Szilveszter, or Sylwester) or the Feast of Saint Sylvester, is the day of the feast of Pope Sylvester I, a saint who served as Pope of the Western Church from 314 to 335 and is considered by tradition as overseeing both the First Council of Nicaea and Roman Emperor Constantine I's conversion to Christianity.[2] Among the Western Christian Churches, the feast day is held on the anniversary of Saint Sylvester's death, 31 December, a date that, since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, has coincided with New Year's Eve. For these Christian denominations, Saint Silvester's Day liturgically marks the seventh day of Christmastide.[3] Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Sylvester's feast on a different day from the Western Churches, i.e. on 2 January. Saint Sylvester's Day celebrations are marked by church attendance at Midnight Mass or a Watchnight service, as well as fireworks, partying, and feasting.[1]

Saint Sylvester[edit]

Under the reign of Pope Sylvester I, several of the magnificent Christian churches were built, including Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Santa Croce Church, and Saint Peter's Basilica, among others.[4] During the papacy of Saint Sylvester, the Nicene Creed, which is recited by communicants of the vast majority of the world's Christian denominations, was formulated.[4] Saint Sylvester is said to have healed, in the name of Christ, the emperor Constantine the Great of leprosy.[4] After dying, Saint Sylvester was buried on 31 December in Catacomb of Priscilla.[4]

Regional traditions[edit]

The German city of Rottenburg am Neckar decorated for Christmas and Silvester
Saint Sylvester's Day fireworks in Krakow

Because of this coincidence, several countries, primarily in Europe, use a variant of Silvester's name as the preferred name for the holiday; these countries include Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Slovenia.[5]

Austria and Germany[edit]

In the capital of Austria, Vienna, people walk pigs on leashes for their Saint Silvester's Day celebration in hope to have good luck for the coming year.[6] Many Christian households in Germany mark the Saint Silvester's Day by practicing the custom of Bleigiessen using Silvesterblei (Silvester lead), in which Silvesterblei is melted over a flame in an old spoon and dropped into a bowl of cold water; one's fortune for the coming year is determined by the shape of the lead.[7] If the lead forms a ball (der Ball), luck will roll one's way, while the shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need, and a star (der Stern) signifies happiness.[8]


Christians of Belgium have a tradition that a maiden who does not finish her work by the time of sunset on Saint Silvester's Day will not get married in year to come.[6]


Along with exploding fireworks, the Saint Silvester Road Race, Brazil's most oldest and prestigious running event, takes place on Saint Sylvester's Day and is dedicated to Pope Sylvester I.[9]


In Israel, the holiday is largely understood for its anti-semitic and historical origins. Pope Sylvester, whose saint's day falls on December 31st, what is now known as New Years Eve. He served as pope from 314-335 CE, and while very little is known about his actual life, it is known that he oversaw both the First Council of Nicea as well as Roman Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity. Pope Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem, the year before the Council of Nicea convened, and during the council, the Pope arranged for the passing of various anti-Semitic legislation. Nevertheless, with the influx of European migration before and after Israel became a state, the holiday still finds its relevancy amongst a small segment of secular Israelis.[5]


On Saint Sylvester's Day, "lentils and slices of sausage are eaten because they look like coins and symbolize good fortune and the richness of life for the coming year."[10]


On the morning of Saint Sylvester's Day, the children of a Christian family compete with one another to see who can wake up the earliest; the child who arises the latest is playfully jeered.[6] Men have, for centuries, masqueraded as Silvesterklaus on Saint Sylvester's Day.[11]


  1. ^ a b Berkmoes, Ryan Ver; Cole, Geert; Berry, Oliver; Else, David (2009). Western Europe. Lonely Planet. p. 551. ISBN 9781741049176. The German New Year's Eve is called Silvester in honour of the 4th-century pope under whom the Romans adopted Christianity as their official religion; there's partying all night long.
  2. ^ A History of New Years
  3. ^ Watts, Isaac (1 November 2013). Joy to the World: The Forgotten Meaning of Christmas. Paraclete Press. p. 49. ISBN 9781612615301.
  4. ^ a b c d Kathy Coffey; Donna M. Crilly; Mary G. Gox; Marry Ellen Hynes; Julie M. Krakora; Corinna Laughlin; Robert C. Rabe (16 February 2012). Companion to the Calendar, Second Edition. LiturgyTrainingPublications. p. 154. ISBN 9781568542607.
  5. ^ a b Cohen, Ariel (31 December 2014). "Celebrating an anti-Semitic pope on Sylvester". Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 31 December 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Crump, William D. (25 April 2014). Encyclopedia of New Year's Holidays Worldwide. McFarland. p. 215. ISBN 9781476607481.
  7. ^ "SILVESTER - NEW YEAR'S EVE". Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  8. ^ "2.0 Silvesterbraeuche - Neujahrsbraeuche". Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  9. ^ Cau, Jean; Bost, Jacques Laurent; Chambry, D.; Wagret, Paul (1979). Brazil. Nagel Publishers. p. 214. ISBN 9782826307273. On New Year's Eve there are fireworks in the streets, and at midnight begins the marathon known as the 'St Sylvester's Day race'.
  10. ^ dePaola, Tomie (18 October 2011). Strega Nona's Gift. Penguin Books. p. 33. ISBN 9781101653159.
  11. ^ Spicer, Dorothy Gladys (1973). Festivals of Western Europe. Library of Alexandria. p. 253. ISBN 9781465579997.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Silvester at Wikimedia Commons