Sadly, 2020 is a year like no other, so many of the usual New Year’s Eve celebrations in France are cancelled. There is an 8pm curfew across the country, and restaurants, nightclubs and tourist attractions are closed. This year, there will be no crowds on the popular Champs-Elysées. No special show at cabaret venues like the Moulin Rouge. In small villages and towns across the country, the new year will arrive in a very subdued fashion.
The French call New Year’s Eve la Saint-Sylvestre. But who is Saint Sylvestre? This saint, who is celebrated on December 31st, has no link with New Year at all. It is just a coincidence of the Gregorian calendar. Each day of the year, a saint is celebrated on the French calendar and December 31st is his feast day. La Saint-Sylvestre is feminine because it’s short for la fête de Saint-Sylvestre.
Sylvester was the 33rd Pope and held the throne of Saint Peter for almost twenty-two years from 314 to 335 A.D. Under his reign, Christianity was recognised as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
New Year Celebrations in France usually begin on New Year’s Eve. It is celebrated with a feast, called le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre. The feast consists of traditional dishes like pancakes, foie gras and champagne. According to French tradition, this special dinner brings prosperity and good luck to the lives of all those attending the feast.
The party can range from an intimate dinner with friends to a grand ball or une soirée dansante. At midnight, everyone kisses under the mistletoe and offers best wishes for the new year. Yes, kissing under the mistletoe is a New Year’s custom in France, rather than a Christmas custom as in other countries.
New Year’s Day
In France, New Year’s Day has not always been January 1st. In the 6th and 7th centuries, in many provinces, New Year was celebrated on March 1st. Under the rule of Charlemagne in the 9th century, the year started at Christmas. From the time of the Capetian kings in the 10th century, the year started on Easter Day. It’s only since 1564 that the new year has started on January 1st. King Charles IX decided to fix the start of the year as January 1st to standardise the calendar throughout the kingdom.
New Year’s Day is popularly called Jour des Étrennes, and le Jour de I’An. The French love to dine with loved ones on this special day. A farewell to the old year and a grand welcome to the New Year is done, with an optimistic hope of success, prosperity, happiness, and peace in the coming time.
Celebrating in high festive spirits, they exchange gifts and cards and share new year’s resolutions with family and close friends. The French love the tradition of gift-giving and consider it more auspicious to present gifts on New Year than at any other festival.