I recently watched a YouTube video in which the speaker, who was German, offhandedly mentioned that New Year’s Eve is called “Silvester” in Germany.
I was intrigued by this little fact, so I set out to learn why.
Turns out Silvester (the holiday) takes its name from Pope Sylvester I, later known as St. Sylvester.
St. Sylvester died on December 31, 335, but his feast day (Dec. 31) wasn’t consistently the last day of the year until the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the late 1500s.
At that point, the name Sylvester became synonymous with New Year’s Eve — so much so that, today, people in Germany and several other countries (including Italy, France and Poland) simply call New Year’s Eve “Silvester” (or whatever the local variant of Silvester is).
What does the name Silvester mean? It comes from Latin and means “woody, sylvan, rural.” Silvester (with an i) is the original form; Sylvester (with a y) is a variant spelling used in English.