A Year (and a Drink) of Godly Prosperity to You

It’s the last day of 2021. The old year and its spirits, both good and evil, take their leave. We celebrate, give our thanks, and wish our fellow human beings well in coming twelve months. If we’re in America we’ll have our weary eyes glued to the big ball that descends on the stroke of midnight.  If we’re residents of other countries, we’ll be observing the turning of the year in some other quaint – and quite frankly, nicer and more tradition-suffused ways.

Pope Sylvester baptizing Emperor Constantine

We’ll all be raising glasses of various types this evening too, and I’ll suggest two appropriate libations.  The first of these is Maria von Trapp’s Sylvester Punch: take a 750 ml bottle of burgundy, mix in 12 cloves, I lemon rind, 2 tbsp sugar, and 2 cinnamon sticks. Heat it over a low flame but don’t let it boil. Add 750 ml of hot tea and serve – about 12 of your guests can partake.

Why the name Sylvester Punch? Today is the feat of Saint Sylvester. In Germany, this evening is called Silvesterabend or Silvesternacht in honor of the man who was pope during the reign of Emperor Constantine. Legend also has it that Sylvester baptized Constantine after the emperor, who ended the persecution of Christians, was cured of leprosy.

Whether or not that story is true, we don’t know. But we do know that Sylvester, who was pope for 21 years and died on December 31 in the year 335, was the first man to assume the throne of Peter during a time of civic peace. That peace was welcomed, and had been a long time coming. So it’s especially appropriate to remember and honor Sylvester at this time of year, when we all wish and hope for “peace on earth.”

Thanksgiving and ritual purifications to cast out demons are popular December 31 traditions beyond our borders. In central Europe, in times that pre-dated organized religion, fireworks and artillery salutes took place to scare away demons. In France, the father of the family would bless the children, and the children would thank the parents for their love and care. In Austria, December 31 was Rauchnacht,or “Incense Night,” when the father would purify all the rooms of the house with incense and holy water. In Spain and Spanish-speaking countries, it was considered good luck to eat twelve grapes at the stoke of midnight.

Sinners got a chance to lighten their sentences in Purgatory too. The Church granted a plenary indulgence – yes, a wiped-clean slate – for those who recited the Latin “Te Deum” prayer in public. Those who recited the prayer in thanksgiving would get a partial indulgence. Not a bad deal either way, for us sinners.

But in any case, we really ought to be thankful as we toast in the New Year. And that brings us to our second drink. Unfortunately, we can no longer order the liqueur known as Sansilvestro, which was made with suspended flakes of silver. People used to put flakes of gold or silver into their beverages. These flakes didn’t affect the drink’s tastes and they weren’t harmful; in fact, they were thought to aid circulation and digestion.

So here’s what we’ll use to toast in the New Year: The Godly Prosperity. It’s .5 oz cinnamon schnapps with gold flakes, .25 oz lemon juice, 3 oz chilled sparkling wine, a dash of orange bitters, and a cranberry garnish.

The drink’s name comes from Saint Thomas More. One New Year’s Eve he lifted a glass and wished his friends “a year of godly prosperity, one that sees a happy continuation and gracious increase of virtue” in their souls.

I’ve already recited my “Te Deum.” You may read the words here, if you wish.  Yes, I am most thankful for all the blessings I’ve received, and for the family and friends whom God has sent to me.

And tonight I echo the words of Thomas More. May 2002 be for you a year of godly prosperity.

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