When you have both a religious and secular New Years to celebrate, you need a way to not get them confused. So Israelis have taken to calling the January 1st New Year “Sylvester.”

Why, you ask?

The Israeli term for New Year’s night celebrations, “Sylvester,” was the name of the “Saint” and Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.). The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of viciously anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic “Saints” are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day – hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester’s memory.

I don’t really get it either.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • I’m guessing they borrowed it from Europe, as “Sylvester” is the common term for New Year’s Eve there. But yeah, it’s odd that they haven’t come up with a Hebrew term w/o anti-Semitic roots for the festivities.

  • Good point, but why put the word “saint” in quotation marks, even as you capitalize the word? I understand the idea of “Saint” Sylvester”, who seems to have been no saint, but why the phrase All Catholic “Saints”? That just seems petty. Right up there with Chabad calling half the towns in California S. Francisco, S. Monica, etc., instead of San Francisco or Santa Monica. Besides, a good number of Catholic saints probably were tzaddikim as we understand the word.

    Even if there were some Judaic justification for this, the last thing we need is people calling us “Jews” or referring to our religious authorities as “rabbis” (oh, wait – the ultraorthodox already do that to their “heterodox” brethren).

  • shawn, thats a quote, in block quotes, taken directly from another source which is linked to. So feel free to take umbrage with simpletoremember.com, as I often do.

  • nevermind, he died on december 31st. so i guess we are celebrating his death. right?

  • that is very true. We hungarian after the Pope sylvestor we call the day of 31 dec Szilveszter(sylvestor} and the celebrations we call szilveszter.

  • Man, I totally forgot. I think I was in the shower.

    My guess is that some ‘smart religious types’ tried to scare Israelis away from this goyish party and dug up this Sylvester loser to deride the event. No one has ever been able to tell me what other country celebrates new years as ‘Sylvester’. Well, little did they know that the word ‘Sylvester’ has quite a catchy tune to it. I think it even sounds ‘fun’.

    Anyway, I would never tell someone not to celebrate ‘Sylvester’. I’d just tell them that New Years is not Jewish, period. Don’t know how many people wil buy that, it took me a while to see the light.

  • Who cares when that Sylvester guy croaked or was born (if at all). It is just a point on the time axis when one has a reason to get sloshed. A person cannot have too many of these reasons!

    • That’s a very Israeli attitude. Any excuse for a party. Saint Patrick’s day is big here because in Israel you can never have too many drinking holidays! But nothing compares to Purim when it is practically mandatory to get falling down drunk. Even the ultra religious are wasted on that holiday. When I hear Sylvester I think “party” not “Pope”!

  • I thought I saw a puddy cat…..
    I did
    I did
    There you are Slyvestor!

  • Wow. what a conversation. Israelis call it “Sylvester” because many Europeans call New Years “Sylvester”, because that happens to be the name of the Catholic saint attached to the day. (They’ve got a saint for every day, if you didn’t know).
    New Years isn’t a celebration of Saint Sylvester (just ask those Europeans who started calling it that!), it’s a celebration of the end/begining of the year.
    Such rubbish.
    And yeah, putting scare quotes around other people’s saints and town names is obnoxious and ridiculous.

  • 2 years after i read this, i really hope that you have now seen the light and understand you were wrong.

  • I attended an ulpan on Kibbutz Sdot Yam back in 1985.When the 25th.Dec came around, I borrowed a very large red night dress and some cotton wool and distributed presents to the volunteers.
    When I asked a kibbutz member why they refered to this holiday as “Sylvestor” I was told it was the name of one of the cruelest Pogrom initiators in Russia.He had long white hair and a beard and dressed in red to intimidate the folk in the villages they terrorized.
    Mind you, the guy that told me had been hitting the Shabbat wine pretty heavily that evening.

  • In Israel, restaurants will lose their Kashrut license if they advertise that they are putting on new year’s parties so they instead celebrate Sylvester. Really, most Israelis don’t even know the meaning of Sylvester – it just gives them a way to celebrate the changing of the Gregorian calendar’s new year just like everyone else in the world.

  • Did no one point out that it comes from all of the Yiddish speaking immigrants?

  • Pope Sylvester II and Pope Sylvester III are believed to be of Jewish background. Sylvester III was Elhanan Crescens (John) the son of Rabbi Simeon the Great of Mainz of the Kalonymus family.

  • I don’t want to claim that Jewish persecution never occurred at the hands of Christians, it has. And as a group Christians need to ask for forgiveness for atrocities. This must be part of any discussion about Jews and Christians, but a couple things should be clarified. January 1st was picked as the Roman new year in 46 BC so that was almost 400 years before Pope Sylvester lived and died. Also he was ill at the time and he didn’t attend the council of Nicea, he had a delegate attend for him. And the result of the council of Nicea is the Nicene Creed which is the profession of the Christian faith and the word Jew or Jewish is not included at all.