Regional New Year’s customs for Baden-Württemberg

By Therese Weiss
Special to The Stuttgart Citizen

Happy New Year! The holiday celebrations are over and now is a transition time from the old to the all-new year.

Here in Baden-Wuerttemberg, various local and regional New Year customs range from charming to strange. An old Swabian superstition claims that if the first person you meet on New Year’s Day is a small boy, that he will bring you good luck!

There are several traditions associated with the 12 Days of Christmas (Dec. 25 – Jan. 6), always a time-span when, as the bards used to say, “the air was heavy with magic.”  Here is an old Swabian New Year’s recipe:

  • Take 12 months, cleanse them of all bitterness, envy and fear.
  • Divide each month into 30 or 31 parts so the supply last exactly one year.
  • Prepare each day from one part work, two parts joy and humor.
  • Add 3 heaped tablespoons of optimism, one teaspoon of tolerance, a grain of irony and a dash of tactfulness.
  • Mix it all with love, and garnish with kindness and consideration.
  • Serve daily

People in rural southwest Germany long took delight in forecasting the weather for the coming year with a so-called Zwiebelkalender (onion calendar). Cut an onion into 12 slices and lay them in a row, each slice representing one of the 12 months. Sprinkle the slices with salt and then see which slice weeps the most juice – that will be the rainiest month of the coming year. Folks used to swear by this system, which is probably at least as reliable as those professional weather forecasts on TV.

In olden days, people in some areas of southern Germany would avoid baking, roasting, spinning wool, even washing clothes, as spirits and ghouls of all kinds could swoop through the air disturbing everyday chores, sometimes led by a legendary wild hunter.

Until quite recently, rural people used to dress up in devil’s costumes to dance away whatever fiends might be lurking around after New Year’s Day. Perchtenmasken (masked dancers) in the Allgau still leap about in barren, snowy fields to make them fertile, or they visit farmhouses led by a rider on a white horse to dance until a witch with a broom sweeps them away. These quaint and curious customs dating back centuries were preserved through regional usage, sentiment and nostalgia.

Since the above traditions are rather grim, here is a more pleasant one: young women can tell their own fortune during the first weeks of the New Year by throwing a shoe into a pear tree a dozen times. If the shoe gets stuck in the tree, it is almost a guarantee that “Mr. Right” will come along, although neither the shoe nor tree reveal when.

The last of the Twelve Days is Jan. 6, Three Kings Day, which is a legal holiday in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Customarily, houses are smoked-out with consecrated twigs and the initials of the three kings are written on door beams with blessed chalk, like this:

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Sternsinger (star singer) children, dressed like the Magi, parade through neighborhoods carrying star-shaped lanterns, and go from house-to-house singing special carols and songs to collect money and raise funds for poor children around the world.

All these activities are meant to assure a lucky, prosperous, happy year ahead.