On the seventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
December 31st is here and so this is the “Seventh Day of Christmas” – and the last day of 2014. This day is also the feast day for St. Sylvester. Sylvester was the Pontiff during the time of the Emperor Constantine. Constantine is noted for officially adopting Christianity as the religion of Rome. Constantine granted greater freedom to Christians, and during his reign, many of Rome’s great churches were founded.
Sylvester as the Pope at the time is credited with ushering in the dawn of the Christian era in Europe. Now while today is the feast day for Sylvester the focus of this day is that it is the end of the secular year. And in that light – across much of Europe this day is often referred to as “Silvester” as the celebration of New Year’s Eve.
Every culture seems to have its own customs for this day, with most being focused on the desire for blessings to begin the New Year, to “start things out on the right foot.” The general belief is that how you find yourself at midnight foreshadows how the rest of the new year will proceed for you.
New Year’s Eve is about celebration – and celebration is all about feasting! Certain foods are considered “lucky” and should be eaten to ensure good fortune. In Spain, one must eat 12 grapes at midnight to fend off evil in the following year. Pea Soup is a German “lucky food,” and in France it is oysters. In parts of the United States, black-eyed peas are consumed.
Other customs of New Year’s Eve around the world include kissing at the stroke of midnight; banging on pots and pans, and generally making noise as the old year ends and the new years begins; and of course making “resolutions” while drinking champagne or sparkling wine.
Sylvester day gives us the “romantic” tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. The name Sylvester is derived from the Latin word Silva – meaning “forest”. And mistletoe is found in the nearby forests in certain regions of Austria, and here also we find a sinister figure wearing a grotesque mask, flaxen beard, and bearing a wreath of mistletoe haunting New Year’s eve celebrations. This “Sylvester” lurks in the dark corners until someone foolishly walks under pine boughs suspended from the ceiling. Sylvester then leaps out, grab them, and offers up rough kisses before slinking back into the dark. At midnight Sylvester is chased away as the last remnant of the old year.
This day is also about music with many of the festivities focused on dancing and singing. A traditional song of the evening is Auld Lang Syne, by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. It is a song to toasts the past and old friends who’ve gone.
Another song of the day – or rather the Carol of the day is an obscure hymn called “This Feast of St. Sylvester So Well Deserves a Song.” I couldn’t find that hymn – but I did find a Song for Sylvester Day
And of course here is Auld Lang Syne
Merry Christmas – and wishing you a Happy New Year –
Drink a cup of cheer and toast the New Year!