Dhe days of 2022 are numbered. Saturday is New Year’s Eve. And like every year, there are numerous customs and traditions in German households at the turn of the year. To understand its origin, it is worth looking at the famous period between the years.
What is meant by the phrase “between the years”.
Today, this usually refers to the time between the Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve. In Switzerland they say old year’s week. The origin of the name is probably related to different dates at the turn of the year, which existed until modern times.
The Germanic lunar calendar counted only 354 days. Eleven days and twelve nights are missing from today’s solar calendar. These are the days and nights from the winter solstice until the “appearance of the Lord” on Epiphany Day on January 6, also known as Epiphany Day. Today’s Gregorian calendar came into effect on February 24, 1582.
Twelve rough nights between the years
In European tradition, the so-called rough nights fall between the years. Depending on the region, they started on December 21st or 25th. The origin of the term, which only lost the internal “h” with the spelling reform, is unclear. The rough nights could come from the “smoke”. Or they could – like the title heroine in Grimm’s fairy tale “Allerlei-Rauh” in her patched fur clothing – refer to skins, the “smoke goods” of the skinning trade. Because hairy and shaggy like wolves and bears, the demons used to be imagined to be up to mischief in the dark days around the turn of the year according to superstition.
In Alpine folk tradition they are called “Perchten”. During the Perchten Run, the participants still put on creepy wooden masks with horns and wear clothing made of fur or straw. Bells and bells are supposed to drive away evil with their noise. With New Year’s Eve firecrackers and fireworks, the noise has also survived as a custom elsewhere.
Why you shouldn’t leave your laundry hanging on New Year’s Eve
The superstition of not doing laundry between the years has to do with driving away the evil spirits that are said to be up to mischief during this time. The demons, according to superstition, could get caught in the laundry hanging out to dry, become angry and take revenge.
Another superstition revolves around white laundry. The evil spirits that roam the country on a wild hunt during the rough nights could steal the laundry. According to tradition, the white fabrics return to their owner as a shroud in the new year.
Lead casting also goes back to pre-Christian customs
In popular belief, the rough nights were not only a time for exorcisms, but also the best time to consult oracles. Lead casting is still known today, but due to possible health risks it now comes in the form of wax or pewter casting.
Two lucky symbols have also survived from pre-Christian times: the fly agaric, which Father Frost once brought for the Slavs and the shaman god Odin for the Germans around the winter solstice to expand consciousness at the Yule Festival, and the little pig.
Even today it is still popular to give away little lucky pigs made of marzipan. They are reminiscent of the boar, the mount of the ancient Germanic god Freyr. The pig was also sacred to the Celts. On the eve of January 6th they dined on ham and bacon and hid a bean in a pie. Whoever discovered the bean was crowned the bean king. The beans represented the ancestors who, according to Celtic belief, would reincarnate.
More superstitions in the rough nights until New Year’s Eve
There were many other superstitious rules during the rough nights: for example, one was not allowed to whistle in the morning because that would attract bad luck. You should also not cut your nails or hair, otherwise you would get gout or headaches in the following year. You shouldn’t work between the years either, otherwise misfortune will come to your home and farm. You should also not eat poultry on New Year’s Eve, otherwise luck will fly away.
The weather during the rough nights was also used as a forecast for the twelve months of the coming year. According to superstition, the weather on December 25th indicated the weather in January, the weather on December 26th that of February, the weather on January 27th that of March, and so on. Finally, the weather on January 5 should herald the weather for the following December. From a scientific point of view, no connection can be established.
Red underwear for New Year’s Eve in Italy, Spain and France
In Italy, and partly also in France and Spain, the superstition is widespread that one should wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve to be lucky in love.
But it’s not that easy, because you can’t buy this underwear yourself, it must have been given to you. And if you take superstition very strictly in contrast to sustainability, you can only wear the underwear once and have to dispose of it on New Year’s Day, otherwise the magic is gone.