Celebrating an anti-Semitic pope on Sylvester

The Israeli New Year's celebration on December 31st is named after an anti-Semitic Pope from the Roman period.

December 31, 2014 17:52
1 minute read.

New Year's Eve in Israel is known as Sylvester. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Israeli New Years, most commonly known as Sylvester, is named after an anti-Semitic pope. Not exactly what you’d expect in a Jewish state.

It's origins come from Pope Sylvester, whose saint's day falls on December 31st, what is now known as New Years Eve. He served as pope from 314-335 CE, and while very little is known about his actual life,  it is known that he oversaw both the First Council of Nicea as well as Roman Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity.

Pope Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem, the year before the Council of Nicea convened, and during the council, the Pope arranged for the passing of various anti-Semitic legislation. Some say he is one of the most anti-Semitic Popes of all time.

Numerous European countries, such as Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Slovenia, refer to New Years as Sylvester. But why Israel?

The tradition of Sylvester came to Israel along with the mass wave of European immigration around the time that Israel became  a state. Of course, the Jewish calendar already had a “New Years,” Rosh Hashanah, so there is not much need for a secular replacement. So the name “Sylvester” stuck.

According to data collected by Jawbone,  nearly half of Israelis are apathetic to secular New Years-- only 67.4% of Israelis were awake at midnight on New Years 2013. In addition, Israelis go to bed earlier than most anywhere else in the world on New Years Eve, with most of the country asleep by 12:45 a.m. on New Years Eve. The study explains that this phenomenon is likely because Israelis celebrate their new years in the fall during Rosh Hashanah, and the Gregorian new year falls as a secondary priority.

For those who do stay awake, not all bars and restaurants will be celebrating the advent of 2015, but many venues will be hosting “Sylvester” parties to ring in the New Year tonight.

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