2008 is already a few days old, but here on our University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the new semester has just begun, and at the Max Kade Institute we still feel like saying “Frohes Neues Jahr!” to everyone. A happy new year it should be. At the MKI we will celebrate our 25th anniversary. It will be an occasion not only to reflect on our Institute, but on German-American history and those many influences derived from German-speaking Europe that are visible in American culture today, - one example: American festive culture. We find “Oktoberfests” all across the country, we think that Santa Claus and the Christmas tree originated in Germany, but how do we celebrate the beginning of a new year?
For me, growing up in Germany, Silvester (New Year’s Eve) was a time of fun and partying with friends and family and of course good food and drink. We ate Berliner (those jelly-filled doughnuts, JFK did NOT talk about) and - living in the North – Heringsalat (herring and red beet salad). And, of course, we had a Feuerzangenbowle, that spectacle of a mulled wine drink with a burning sugar cone on top (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuerzangenbowle). At midnight, champagne corks flew and Fourth-of-July style fireworks broke out in the neighborhoods, colorfully illuminating the skies over every city and little town at the exact same moment across the country. Now living in Wisconsin, there are no fireworks at midnight in our suburb, but we always have a Feuerzangenbowle, - which turns out to be popular among many of our American friends, too. I buy Berliner, and sometimes I even make Heringsalat, - which I mostly have all to myself.
But there is a place in America, where the whole town celebrated New Year 2008 with German traditions AND on German time (!): Harmony, Pennsylvania, founded by Lutheran pacifists from a village near Stuttgart over 200 years ago. There were German foods (the Southern kind – no Heringsalat) and German music. There were traditions of old such as Bleigießen (dissolve a soft metal – lead in the olden days - in a spoon over a candle, pour it into cold water and see clues for your future in the resulting object), and there were traditions of new (the British skit “Dinner for Two” which plays on German TV every New Year’s Eve). And at “midnight” there were fireworks!
More about “Silvester in Harmony” on the following Websites.