“Diwali, the festival of light as we call it in India, is one of the most renowned festivals in the Indian culture. Diwali is a symbolic victory of light over darkness and to celebrate this my family surrounds our house with lamps to honor the light present in our lives which has guided us to where we are. The fun part of the festival is the fireworks. We celebrate Diwali with a lot of fireworks and decorate our house with new things. Diwali is more than a mere festival for us because it signifies a renewal and letting go of the past and welcoming the future with hope.”
This particular interlocutor has celebrated Diwali his entire life, and he mentioned that he remembers celebrating Diwali throughout his childhood. Because of its popularity throughout the entirety of India, it was hard for him not to acknowledge its presence, not that he would want to. He stated that this is one of his favorite holidays because of the grand celebratory acts and the happy disposition of the general public in his community. This is also a time in which one is able to reflect and project their wishes for the future, something he does with the utmost sincerity and unwavering faith.
When light prevails over darkness, in most cases, people generally rejoice in its victory. The Diwali festival utilizes this light and joy to celebrate how good is much more powerful than evil. The various lights, especially through the many lamps, represent this victory while also providing hope for those who feel they are consumed by darkness. One who is immersed in so many lights would not be able to sulk in their troubles for very long. The lights also serve to guide, as the interlocutor mentioned, leading people toward a stronger and better path while also redirecting those who are astray. In this sense, the myriad lights protect, uplift, and guide. The fireworks also contribute to this uplifting as well, symbolizing the pockets of kinetic joy that surprises all humans. Though their duration is limited to mere seconds, they bring about lasting joy that is unforgettable. By way of this, Indian culture is revealed to prize moments of exultation in the midst of darkness; this also illustrates the incredible resilience that is present in Indian culture.
Informant: “So for Sylvester, in every major city, and pretty much all of Germany, you are allowed to shoot fireworks at the turn of midnight. And this day is a holiday, but some shops are open like, until 6:00pm. And then people will go to their houses, or friend’s houses, or even parties. But usually first, the evening starts with a dinner. Like, not just with your close family, but it is with your friends too.”
Interviewer: “And why do they call New Years ‘Sylvester’?”
Informant: “I have no idea, I mean I never thought of it as ‘New Years’. It is just the name we gave it. I think it is some religious guy… Oh! And on Sylvester everyone always watches Dinner for One. It is one of these things where you have a certain tradition, and you don’t really know where it comes from but you grow up with. And Dinner for One is a common thing for Sylvester because the butler in the show keeps saying ‘same procedure as every year?’ So he is referring to the routine, and that some things don’t change even though the year changes. I don’t know, it’s just one of these traditions that you don’t know where they come from, but you grew up with them so you don’t really question them. So yeah.”
Much like in America, Germany celebrates New Years by partaking in special events such as the shooting of fireworks at midnight and spending time with friends and family. On New Years it is important to spend time with friends and family because it is a way of expressing to them that you appreciate and love them, and you want them to be in your life at the start of the new year. This indicates that you are wishing your relationship with them to extend into the new year, and many years afterwards. The shooting off of fireworks is a sign of celebration, much like it is in America. However a difference I noticed when I celebrated New Years with my informant was that in Germany people are allowed to fire the big fireworks, but where I am from in America only city workers are allowed to shoot off the big fireworks because it is considered too dangerous for other people to do. Even though firework regulations change based on where you are in America, the fact that there are not as many regulations on fireworks in Germany indicates that the German government probably trusts it’s people with the explosives more than the American government does with their people.
In Germany, ‘New Years’ is referred to as Sylvester. My informant was not sure as to why this is, which indicates that the tradition of calling ‘New Years’ ‘Sylvester’ comes from old, long forgotten beliefs. In my research I discovered that the term ‘Sylvester’ is of Isreali origin because that is what the Isreali people call the New Years celebration. Sylvester was the name of the ‘saint’ and Roman Pope who was in charge of the Catholic church during the 4th century. Pope Sylvester is best known for convincing Constantine to forbid Jews from living in Jerusalem. All Catholic ‘Saints’ are awarded the day Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory, and December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day. Due to the anti-Semitic tone of this legend, perhaps one of the reasons why my informant was not aware of the true origin of Saint Sylvester Day was because Germany has been very careful to distance themselves from their negative history in WWII and the Holocaust.
The final Sylvester tradition my informant mentioned was watching Dinner for One every year. This english film is played every hour on television during Sylvester and it is very popular in Germany because as my informant pointed out, it reflects on the idea that even though things are changing there are some things in life that will always remain. Some people feel anxiety towards change, therefore I can understand how in this idea that there is “the same procedure every year” is reassuring to those fearful of change. The film is especially popular among the wealthier German class because there are jokes in the film that only the wealthy would understand, such as the knowledge of serving the right kind of alcoholic drink with the food. This comes from upper class dining beliefs that for example, port is an after dinner drink therefore it should be served with the final dish, fruit. The film is also in English, which is a language that only educated German people would understand.
My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany. She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree. She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.