Monday, January 7, 2008

Happy Sylwester!

Krakow's main square (the Rynek) on New Year's Eve

We couldn't figure out why all the signs advertising New Year's Eve talked about "Sylwester." Then in Budapest and Vienna it was the same thing - Sylvester! When I asked my students (who are from all over Europe) what they call New Year's Eve, they looked at me rather strangely and said "Sylvester, of course." Turns out the 31st of December is the day of Saint Sylvester – therefore, New Year's Eve is “Sylvester."

(Saint Sylvester was Pope from 314-335, and according to legend healed from leprosy and then baptized the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great - a major turning point in the history of the Christian Church.)

Today, many cities here celebrate New Year's Eve by holding formal "Sylvester Balls" but in Krakow, everyone heads for the main market square - at least it seemed like everyone in Krakow was there. It was almost impossible to move, it was so crowded. John, Alison and I headed off to a side street to observe the festivities from a little distance, but Nick dove into the thick of things going right up to the stage (where bands had been playing all night) for a great view of the fireworks (and popping champagne bottles) at midnight. (We still got soaked, even on our side street.) We learned later it was estimated that only 190,000 people were in the square that night when over 200,000 were expected. I don't know how any more people could have possibly fit!

(And I did buy some tacky little pigs in Vienna to give to John, Alison and Nick - hope they bring them good luck in the new year!)

The center stage in front of the Cloth Hall

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