This historic town, founded by Germans 211 years ago, and its Harmony Museum are gearing up to celebrate 2016’s arrival — on German time — with its annual Silvester on Thursday, December 31.
An afternoon of family fun created in 2007 by the borough with museum and business support, Silvester attracts thousands of celebrants to the National Historical Landmark on New Year’s Eve. The town square will be jammed with people from throughout the tri-state area, cheering a ball drop and fireworks to greet the new year at 6 p.m. — midnight in Germany. It serves as a year-end fundraising opportunity for the nonprofit museum and Harmony’s parks.
From 3 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., the museum offers self-guided tours for a $2 donation; Bleigiessen, a German tradition of interpreting melted lead shapes for what the new year might hold, also $2; from 3:30 p.m., a pork and sauerkraut dinner for $12, and continuous free showings in its 1809 wine cellar of “Dinner for One,” a hilarious 1960s video in English popular in Germany on New Year’s Eve.
New this Silvester is a Christmas tree tossing contest beginning at 2:30 p.m. In the museum driveway, inspired by a contest begun several years ago in southwest Germany’s Weidenthal. The contestant who throws a five-foot tree the farthest wins $20. Sixteen gift certificates from the Harmony Museum Shop and popular Harmony eatery Wunderbar Coffee & Crepes. Each tree toss is for a $2 donation.
Races that raise funds for the borough’s parks are key Silvester events — a 5 Kilometer Run starts at 3:30 p.m. and 1 Mile Fun Run at 4:15. Specialty shops along Main and Mercer streets offer year-end bargains. There’s also face painting, live music, and other activities throughout town.
New Year’s Eve is called Silvester in Germany after the ancient feast day that commemorated the 4th century Pope Sylvester I, who died on the last day of 335.
Harmony’s history began in 1753 with an Indian village visited by Virginia Maj. George Washington, then only 21, on a mission to demand the French withdraw from the region. The French suggested instead that the British should stay out of New France. This led months later to the French and Indian War. Nearby, in late December 1753, the war’s first shot was fired at Washington by a northern Indian allied with the French; the musket ball missed its target.
Harmony was founded in 1804 by Lutheran Separatists from southwestern Germany whose Harmony Society became one of 19th century America’s most successful communal groups. They believed the return of Christ was imminent, adopted celibacy, and became successful in various businesses, especially in production of woolens and linens. When the Harmonists relocated to Indiana Territory in 1814-15, resettlement was led by Mennonites from eastern Pennsylvania whose meetinghouse was the first Mennonite church west of the Allegheny Mountains. The Harmony Society returned in 1824 to establish their final home, Economy, now Ambridge, 22 miles southwest of Harmony, where the society was dissolved in 1905, about the same time Harmony’s Mennonite congregation was fading away.
The nine-site Harmony Museum presents the community’s extraordinary history with guided tours of three buildings 1-4 p.m. daily except Mondays and holidays. Harmony is at I-79 exits 87-88, about 10 miles north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and 30 miles south of I-80.
For more visit www.harmony-pa.us
Courtesy Harmony Museum.