Did you know that in Europe, 2010 didn’t start until yesterday? Actually, that’s a big lie. I just needed an extension because we were on another little trip-zeug. Yes, since we last spoke I have added Switzerland and France to my list of countries visited.
But, to get back to New Years. How do the Swiss celebrate, you may ask. We Deutsch-o-philes call New Year’s Eve by his first name: Sylvester. Sylvester actually has nothing to do with New Years itself. The church didn’t celebrate the turn of the year for a long time, but eventually, in 335, a pope named Sylvester died on Dec. 31. Pope Sylvester became St. Sylvester because he miraculously cured Emperor Constantine of leprosy, and his feast day happily corresponds with the Julian calendar.
In Basel, the hometown of my dear friend Eugenie, the citizens meet up with Sylvester in the ancient town square dominated by the medieval Münster (cathedral – like the English minster). Earlier in the week, we climbed up the tower. Eugenie had an unfortunate acrophobic episode, but Aaron and I showed no mercy and plowed right to the very top, from whence we could see the point in the Rhine River where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet.
On Sylvester, in the dark and the thankfully-not-too-cold Münsterplatz, a brass band populated the balcony above the entrance and plays traditional alpine melodies to the waiting crowd starting around 23:30. The church bells rang for ten straight minutes, from 23:45 to 23:55. Then, accompanied by the band again, all the Swiss in the square raised their voices in community song. No Auld Lang Syne, even though that sounds foreign enough to me to be German. Instead, they sang church songs, reading the lyrics from songsheets the little volunteer ladies had thoughtfully handed out at the entrance to the square. At midnight, the church bells pealed again, for at least 10 more minutes, bidding a robust good-bye to Sylvester and hello to 2010. The Swiss added to the ruckus with the popping of countless champagne corks and cell-phone conversations around the globe (including ours to Eugenie who was already back in Chicago and facing seven more hours of 2009). We walked back home through the brand new year with Eugenie’s father. On the way, we crossed a square which happened to have a perfect view of the celebratory fireworks. We stood in the bracing night for a while watching one of the most magnificent fireworks displays I have ever seen. It was a great way to start a new year.
So, I hope for all of you a year like that night, the health and energy of striding through midnight streets, and the serendipity of surprise fireworks.