If you are in central Europe or Israel, Happy Silvester! Or however it is said in your language.
That’s what New Year’s Eve is called in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Slovenia.
Is there some sort of tradition of giving silver? Or perhaps it is one of those pagan names. Probably has something to do with yule logs, or Germanic tribes, or some such, right? Well… no.
It is the feast of St Sylvester, who was bishop of Rome from 314 to 335. He has the distinction of being the only one of the patriarchs of the Church not present at the Council of Nicea. Helpfully he sent two legates, Vitus and Vincentius to represent him, and most importantly he agreed with the council’s decisions. This helped keep the west orthodox – notwithstanding the decades of fights with the Arians and the waxing and waning of the fortunes of the True Faith until that pernicious heresy was finally laid to rest (only to be resurrected by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but that’s another story).
Sylvester was quite a builder as well. The legalization of Christianity in 311 took the Church from catacombs and people’s houses to large purpose-built structures. Others will argue the good and the bad of this development, but it was what is was. He built the first St Peter’s Basilica and the first Basilica of St John Lateran. So not exactly the patron saint of the house church movement. (Not that many in the house church movement would want a patron saint, but again this is a discussion for another time.)
So what is the deep spiritual lesson to be learned from celebrating St Sylvester’s Day? You’ll have to find one on your own. However, we can thank God for the leader who guided the Western Church from one era into another.
So why is St Sylvester’s Day such a big day in Central Europe. Is there a huge cult of Sylvester? No, it seems to be the mere coincidence of the anniversary of his burial with the beginning of the civil year.
However, it is a reminder that calendar should be first and foremost about the sanctification of time. The beginning of the civil year has changed throughout the centuries in different countries. It was March 25 in England and the Empire until 1751 (which is, of course the Feast of the Annunciation – the true beginning of the Incarnation). It reminds us that God is God before all time and after time is no more and that each day bring a new way to remember His glory in the Church.
So today and tonight we remember Sylvester. Tomorrow is the eighth day, with glories that far exceed hanging the new Chick-Fil-A calendar on the kitchen cupboard with a coupon each month to eat mor chikin .