Italian expression of the day: 'San Silvestro'

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Italian expression of the day: 'San Silvestro'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond"

If you thought today was New Year's Eve in Italy, think again.


While English speakers refer to December 31st as the night before the new year begins, in Italy the occasion goes by another name: San Silvestro.

Little is known of Saint Sylvester himself, beyond that he was born in what is now Campania, and died the pope on December 31st. As saints go he's not one of the biggest, but the timing of his feast day means he's given his name to the year's biggest party in Catholic countries including Italy.


Nowadays not many Italians will be thinking of old Sylvester as they crack open the Prosecco tonight, but they'll almost certainly mention him a few times.


Cosa fai per San Silvestro?
What are you doing for New Year's Eve?

Yes, what will Italians be doing tonight? A few of the traditions include eating lentils, playing tombola (a kind of bingo), giving and wearing red underwear for luck, and chucking your junk out the window in preparation for new beginnings. As national treasure Totò says in New Year's Eve comedy The Passionate Thief:

- San Silvestro, roba vecchia, defenestro!
- On New Year's Eve, out the window old stuff must leave!

There are a few more familiar traditions too, including New Year's Eve parties (veglioni di Capodanno), fireworks (fuochi d'artificio), counting down to midnight (fare il conto alla rovescia) and cheers-ing (brindare) when it arrives.

Grab a bunch of grapes with your other hand, though: superstition has it that eating 12 grapes, one for each strike of the clock and month of the year, will bring you good luck.

Once you've swallowed, it's time to wish those you're celebrating with all the best: you can say felice anno nuovo (happy New Year), buon anno, or buon 2023 (that's due-mila-venti-due)

From us to you: buon anno!


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