Happy New Year's? No, not here in Israel. Here, we say Happy Sylvester. And no one is going around asking about each other's New Year's plans because instead they are asking about each other's Sylvester plans. If you are not catching on, the holiday typically known to the Western World as New Year's Eve is known by the name Sylvester here in Israel. Very odd, I know, so I'll explain.
First off, New Year's Eve is not a big holiday here in Israel specifically because the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) actually falls during autumn, a few months previous. So, the western tradition of celebrating the "new year" is specifically a western tradition, a cultural practice. However, I wouldn't say that December 31 and January 1 go completely unnoticed.
According to various sources, the name Sylvester actually comes from European background where in countries like Germany and Poland, they still also refer to New Year's Eve as Sylvester Night. Now, why do they do this? Allegedly, in the Catholic tradition, all Catholic "Saints" are awarded a day on which Catholics will honor their memory. For the "Saint" named Sylvester, the historic day of celebration for this individual has been celebrated on December 31, thus the moniker "Sylvester Night" has developed over time with wild parties being had for this "Saint".
Ironically, this "Saint" Sylvester is not really a "Saint" at all. What we know about Sylvester is that he was the Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea in about 325 CE. Not only did Sylvester prohibit Jewish people from living in Jerusalem during his reign, but also, he allegedly passed a host of antisemitic legislation during his rule. Thus, to Israelis, Sylvester should not really be someone to celebrate because of obvious reasons.
Despite the anti-Semitic roots, the tradition of celebrating Sylvester Night became an ingrained practice over time in Europe and the idea is that immigrants brought the tradition with them to Israel since its founding. I would not say that Sylvester Night is the biggest holiday of the year. I would not even say that the majority of people go out to celebrate. In fact, I believe it's the minority, and predominantly in Tel Aviv. The surrounding days are not public holidays and New Year's simply is not celebrated here in Israel like it is in the western world. So if you find yourself in Israel over New Year's Eve, don't come expecting a booming party scene with fireworks, because that's not what you're going to find. It really makes you realize that holidays and rituals are truly culturally developed.
Of course, the bars and clubs publicize Sylvester Night in order to attract business, and people do go out if they want to, but it's simply just not the same as what you would expect to experience back home. So, wherever in the world you are celebrating your New Year's Eve, enjoy it and embrace it!
Best of luck to a successful and rewarding 2012!!