Today I have the wonderful Alissa from Creative With Kids guest posting and sharing her Bleigießen tradition. It is something that I remember well from my childhood and I think I will get hold of some “blei” for next year and my kids!
An Austrian New Years Tradition
“Get the best!” she would say to us, “Get cheeses and a roast and pickles and some goodies and we’ll have a party! And get champagne too!” Then she’d hand me a check and I was off to provision for our New Year’s Eve Party. Even until last year at 90, my grandmother loved New Year’s Eve and claimed she had never missed midnight on that day in all her life.
My grandmother, or Großmutti, as we called, was born in Vienna and New Year’s Eve was always her favorite holiday – not only because of the parties and the champagne, but also because on New Year’s Eve you did Bleigießen (pron. BLYE-ghee-sen.)
Fortune Telling on the New Year
Bleigießen translates to lead pouring, and it’s a way to read your fortune for the new year. Aside from having one of us grand kids go buy foods for the buffet, Großmutti would set another one of us, usually my brother or step-dad, onto finding lead pieces and an old spoon. I’ve noticed that in Germany or Austria you can buy Bleigießen kits which include cute little lead figures, but we’ve always used fishing weights.
We gather around the table with a candle and a bowl of water. One of the grown-ups holds a spoon with the lead weight over the flame and lets the lead melt. Once it’s liquid you pour it into the cold water. It immediately freezes into a new shape – your fortune for the coming year!
My grandmother would hold the interesting new piece and almost invariably say, “Oh! Look!….That’s a good one!” She had a way of making these small moments really special. You were drawn in to the wonder of the moment. We’d ponder the meaning of our melted lumps of lead, all give our varying interpretations and nosh on the snacks of “the best” foods we’d laid out on the table.
A Final Fortune
Last year at New Years my grandmother was 90. She had spent the year feeling overly-tired and she missed my grandfather, who had died 6 years hence, terribly. She was, however in good spirits for New Years Eve and we loved hearing the stories of New Year’s when she was younger – how her family would hold parties and one of her sisters would always fall asleep by ten, and how they would fill a bathtub with ice to chill the champagne bottles.
When it came time to do our Bleigießen and she poured her lead, it came out looking like a comet. Someone said it looked like something breaking through to the other side.
What Makes a Good Life?
My grandmother died this year in July. Her life, she said the day before she died, was an example of a life well lived. I can think of three important things that helped her create that well-lived life.
She had a spirit of adventure in the face of the unknown, she overcame challenges with striking determination to “do what needs to be done” and, she really enjoyed the small moments, like that instant when you pull your melted lead out of the bowl of water to find out with the coming year will bring.
Grossmutti looked at her Bleigießen often in the months before her death. As we were cleaning out her house we found her piece from New Year’s sitting on the window ledge next to her favorite chair. She did indeed break through to the other side. I think looking at the lead piece gave her hope of something new to come (about dying, she told my mother, “I don’t know what it will be like, but I’m sure it will be interesting!”) I think it also reminded her of a treasured tradition she had shared with so many generations of her family – from her grandparents all the way down to her great-grandchildren.
This year when we celebrate the New Year I’ll be thinking of how she taught us to delight in the simple joys of life and to share them with one another. I hope I too can make it to 90 and say that mine was a life well lived.
Alissa Marquess writes the blog Creative with Kids where she does her best to help families live well and be happy by sharing kid activities, play and positive parenting ideas.