If you are in Poland on New Year’s Eve everybody talks about Sylwester. Who is he and what has he got to do with the New Year’s celebrations?
Św. Sylwester St Sylvester was papież pope of the Catholic Church between 314 and 355. During his reign cesarz emperor Constantine was converted to chrześcijaństwo Christianity and stopped the persecution of Christians across Imperium Rzymskie the Roman Empire. Christianity became legal. Under his reign several magnificent churches were built in Rome including St Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of St John Lateran. Pope Sylvester I died on 31 December 355.
Little is known about his life so in the absence of fact there are numerous legends. One of them claims that he imprisoned a flying monster called Leviathan in the dungeons of the Vatican. In the ancient times, according to the Sybil’s prophecy, Leviathan was to wake up on the New Year’s Eve of year 999 and destroy the world. No wonder then that from the beginning of 999 Rome and the rest of the Christian world was gripped by the fear of total destruction and a painful death. In 999, the pope was Gerbert of Aurilliac, known as Sylvester II. The prophecy was remembered and some were saying that “while one Sylvester imprisoned the Leviathan, another Sylvester would let him out”. The suspicion that the pope was using magic (the pope was a mathematician and scientist) combined with the knowledge of prophecy caused people to panic, hide in their homes and pray. When the midnight came bringing the end of year 999 and the Leviathan had not appeared, Rome was still standing and other major cities of the Christendom have not been destroyed, people started coming out of their dwellings into the streets and celebrating, drinking wine, and wishing each other a happy new year. The pope Sylvester II (and all the popes after him) appeared in front of the celebrating crowds and gave them the blessing – urbi et orbi – to the City [of Rome] and to the World for the new year and the new millennium. Hence all the celebrations on the last day of the year are known as Sylwester.
In Poland, New Year celebrations are relatively new – they migrated from Western Europe in the beginning of the 19th Century. However, in the past there were uniquely Polish traditions related to the New Year. The pantries had to be full of food to ensure the prosperity for the coming year. Children, guests and neighbours were given bread and rolls specially baked for the occasions known as “szczodraki’ (from szczodry generous) with good wishes.
Today Sylwester also known as noc sylwestrowa is associated with zabawa sylwestrowa New Year’s Eve party, toast [to-a-st] toast, tańce dancing, fajerwerki fireworks, muzyka music, and zabawa do białego rana fun till dawn. It also marks the start of karnawał carnival – a time of festivities and parties.
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Here are some of the Polish proverbs relating to the New Year – try to translate them into English.
Co Nowy Rok nakaże, wrzesień pokaże.
Gdy Nowy Rok w progi, to stary rok w nogi.
Jaki Nowy Rok, taki cały rok.
Whichever way you celebrate the New Year, I wish you
Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!