Saturday, December 31, 2016

Celebrating Silvester, Whoever He Was

I've been writing for Berlin Loves You and they asked me to write up an alternative guide to New Years Eve. I started with an introduction to why New Years is called "Silvester" in Berlin, but it was too long for the article. I cut it down but in the final article, it got cut even more. I thought maybe some people would be interested in the full expanded trivia, so here it is, expanded even more with annotations and everything. The Berlin Loves you article can be found here in case you're curious about the cut or looking for last minute non-techno things to do in Berlin for New Years. 

In America, Sylvester is a tuxedo cat with a bad lisp. Sylvester is an Eye-talian knucklehead who made a couple of boxing films. But in Berlin, Silvester is what the locals say when they mean New Years Eve. So who the heck is this Silvester guy? I finally looked it up and it turns out that he was the pope who converted the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity.

If you google this Pope Silvester guy, you'll immediately turn up rumors that he and Constantine were both rampantly anti-Semitic but that’s just hearsay. There's plenty of evidence of anti-Semitism in the middle ages so I have no idea why an alt-right website feels the need to make this up. Maybe the writer is a sourpuss who wants to pour cold water over New Year celebrations? (I went on a google dive and apparently there are conflicts in Israel over Rosh Hashanah vs. everyone else's New Year.) You'll also find a source that says Silvester was black and a few other sources about him slaying a dragon. So if you believe everything that's on the internet, Silvester was the first black man to slay a dragon and became pope. That's a way better rumor to spread around and I'm very happy to help you do that. But sadly, it doesn't serve anyone's agenda, so I doubt if it will gain much traction.

The truth is that no one knows anything about Sylvester except that he was too sick to attend the Nicean Council and he happened to die on December 31. That was right in the middle of a 12-day pagan festival to banish evil spirits called the Rauhnächte. Germanic tribes throughout Central Europe believed that during those “Rough Nights,” the sun slowed down to a crawl while Wotan led a band of bellicose ghosts on a wild hunt through the dark skies. In response, the Teutons filled their houses with smoke, banged kitchen utensils, beat on trees with flaming cudgels, and rolled burning wooden wheels down mountainsides. Good times. Naturally, sourpuss early Christians disapproved and they set about convincing pagan Germans to fête Silvester instead. In the late 1500s, Europeans countries began to move the first day of the calendar to 1 January and the feast day for Silvester gradually turned into celebrations for a new year.

  Like in NYC, there are a billion things to do in Berlin tonight. I might lay low after two days of going out and performing. But everyone keeps telling me that Warschauer Strasse is like a warzone of fireworks. That sounds amazing to me after 20 years of fireworks restrictions in NYC. And my dad comes from Yanshui, a small town in Taiwan whose claim to fame is that it hosts the craziest fireworks festival in the world. People literally wear full face helmets and hazmat suits. I've never been to Asia during Lunar New Year and I probably would hate Yanshui's fireworks, but I am all about down home street celebrations. Maybe I will go and take some photos of Berliners making a big ruckus for Silvester like it's 330AD.

Running out now to get groceries before all the grocery shops close for two days. Leaving you with this video of Joshua Samuel Brown in Yanshui a few years back.