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Thursday 30 December 2010

Happy New Year!

New Years Eve in France is called Saint-Sylvestre. This name actually has nothing to do with the New Year - it is just the feast day named after a Pope from the 4th Century, which coincidentally is also on 31 December!

Traditionally, New Years Eve is celebrated with a feast around midnight - usually beginning late in the evening and continuing into the early hours of the morning. It is called Le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre, which can be translated as ‘the awakening of Saint-Sylvestre’, or ‘the awakening of the New Year’. The feasts includes celebratory foods, such as Champange and foie gras, as well as brioche, pancakes, oysters, chicken, eggs, wine, chocolate, sweets and candied fruit.

Although New Year’s Eve is generally celebrated as a private affair at home, it is also popular to celebrate with balls and parties (“une soirée dansante”). Southwestern France also has its own particular tradition, where locals attend an evening Mass the evening of Saint-Sylvestre. They then march by a torchlight procession into the vineyards, where they celebrate with ‘vin chaud’ (mulled wine) to bring in the New Year.
New Year’s Eve is typically fairly formal in France, and even at family celebrations at home, everyone tends to dress up. So if you want to fit in, make sure you wear something classy!

New Year’s day in France is better known as Jour des Étrennes and it is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in France. New Year’s day in France is typically spent eating with family and friends, with a good deal of wine generally adding to the festive spirit! The French also give gifts on New Years day, and whilst it is seen as a pleasure, it is also taken somewhat seriously. Traditionally, it is considered good luck to give presents at the beginning of the year - much more so than at any other time of the year.
The New Year is not just celebrated on January 1, but actually continues for several days. The New Year holidays in France ends on January 6 with the ceremonial cutting of a special type of festive cake called la galette des rois. A small figurine, “la fève”, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in their slice becomes king for the day. Originally, “la fève” was literally a broad bean (fève), but they were replaced from the 1870s by a variety of figurines. A paper crown is included with the cake to crown the "king" who finds the fève in their piece of cake. Traditionally, the cake was divided into as many pieces as there were people, plus one extra slice. This extra slice was called the "share of the poor" was intended to be given out of charity to a poor person. The French President is not allowed to “draw the kings” on Epiphany, as it is bad etiquette. Therefore, at the Elysée Palace, the traditional galette without figurine and crown is served to the President.
On the original calender, the New Year began on March 25. This explains the tradition on the “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish). It is similar to ‘April Fools’, where people play tricks on each other on the 1st of April. In France, people sent fake gifts around the time of the New Year’s feast. When the reformed calender of 1582 was put into place, the ‘Poisson d’Avril’ tradition moved to January, along with the other New Year celebrations. Today, it is still popular to send fake gifts, chocolate fish and funny cards with pictures of fish.