As I went about my business yesterday, picking up goodies for a Sylvester (New Year’s Eve) apéro with friends, each merchant cheerily wished me “Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr”, or a good slide, into the New Year. Of course, I wished them a good slide right back, as one does here in this part of Switzerland. My favorite local Sylvester custom, though, happens at midnight in the square fronting Basel’s Münster, the former cathedral.

Every year, shortly before midnight, folks gather at the Münsterplatz for a musical treat: an ensemble of brass musicians playing (centuries) old tunes from the cathedral’s balcony overlooking the square. The mini-concert ends just before the big church bell gongs midnight; and when it does, families and friends lift flutes of champagne to herald in the New Year.

As soon as the bell quiets, it’s time for fireworks over the Rhine. Revelers on the Münster’s riverside terrace have a view of the official flares, as well as the smaller-scale, random pops set off by celebrants on the cobble-stone terrace itself.

By “midnight-thirty” the crowd begins to disperse. This New Year’s, the square had a special quality. Fog softened the sound of fireworks, and bathed the scene in a soft glow.

Basel’s Sylvester ritual was the perfect coda to a quiet evening in the company of good friends. This year’s Rutsch accomplished, it was time to head home for the year’s first snooze.

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