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I couldn't figure out why Israelis call New Year's Sylvester until I looked it up on the net. It turns out that Pope Sylvester (314-335 CE) is believed to have died on December 31, and New Year's is his feast day in some - primarily German - church communities. The historical record suggests that this early pontiff was also quite an anti-Semite, so perhaps that is why I never managed to truly enjoy the holiday.
Every year my friends ask me out, and the only reason I go is because it's New Year's (or Sylvester), and everyone goes out then. But every time I come home, usually tipsy, I wonder why I bothered; I never really had any fun. The whole thing is just so I can say I went out to so and so and that I did the whole countdown thing and, no, I didn't kiss anyone, but I probably hugged a few strangers, and it was all pretty dreadful.
So this year I haven't decided what I'm going to do, but I've come up with a few guidelines:
1. Don't expect New Year's to be more fun than any other night. The only thing that makes it different is that you are expected to drink more than usual, you count down to a time that's never exactly midnight, and the next day you wake up with a hangover. This year, however, you have to work the next day, and may arrive so out of it that your boss gives you dirty looks, and gets even angrier when you forget to write "2006" on important documents.
2. Go out with good friends rather than just tagging along with whoever invites you. If you are single, don't go with a friend who has a crush on you because it will get really awkward at midnight when you are expected to kiss. Try to keep it a non-romantic outing if you're not in a serious relationship. If you have a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, however, consider this a date on which you can parade your couplehood because, unlike most people at the bar, you found someone you actually want to kiss.
3. Stick with one place. It's very tempting to hop from bar to bar to find that "perfect" New Year's experience. When this happens, you usually end up doing the countdown in some dark alley between bars. Then you get even more upset. Choose one place as the best of all evils, and don't look back.
4. Try a nice dinner with some good friends at an expensive restaurant. Start late and let dinner go on past midnight. Order more wine than usual, but drink just enough so that you feel relaxed. This way you can say you did something on New Year's and can go home satiated no matter what. And when you discuss your New Year's resolutions over a good meal - sober - you may actually mean them.
5. If you stay home, try not to look at the clocks, because as midnight approaches you'll wonder if you really should have made that effort after all.
Most bars, nightclubs and restaurants will be packed, but there should be something for everyone. Below is an eclectic selection of New Year's parties and events throughout Israel. Reservations are recommended.