New Year's Eve in France

Vocabulary and Traditions of 'La Saint-Sylvestre' in France

New Year In France
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The New Year is celebrated in France from the evening of December 31 (le réveillon du jour de l’an) to January 1 (le jour de l’an), when people gather with their family, friends, and community.

New Year’s Eve in France

In France, New Year’s Eve is also called La Saint-Sylvestre, because it is this saint's feast day. In this predominantly Catholic country—as in most European Catholic or Orthodox countries—specific days of the year are assigned to celebrate specific saints, and these special days are called the saints' feast days. Individuals who share a saint's name celebrate that saint's feast day something like a birthday.

My saint's feast day, for instance, is La Saint-Camille, shorthand for la fête de Saint-Camille. It is celebrated on July 14, which is also Bastille Day. December 31 is Saint Sylvester’s feast day, so we call this day La Saint-Sylvestre

'Le Jour de l’An'

New Year’s Eve, or December 31, is called le réveillon du jour de l’an, while New Year's Day, or January 1, is le jour de l’an.

Traditions for New Year's Eve In France

We don’t have so many traditions for New Year's Eve in France. The most important ones would be kissing under the mistletoe (le gui, pronounced with a hard G + ee sound) and counting down to midnight.

There is nothing in France like the big crystal ball dropping in Times Square, but often there's a big variety show on TV with France’s most famous singers. There might also be fireworks or a parade in bigger cities.

New Year's Eve is traditionally spent with friends, and dancing might be involved. (The French like to dance!) Many towns and communities also organize a ball. The party will be dressy or costumed, and at the stroke of midnight, everybody will kiss on the cheek two or four times (unless they are romantically involved). People may also throw des cotillons (confetti and streamers), blow into un serpentin (a streamer attached to a whistle), shout, applaud and generally make some noise.

'Les Résolutions du Nouvel An' (New Year's Resolutions)

And of course, the French make New Year’s resolutions. Your list will, undoubtedly, include improving your French, maybe even scheduling a trip to France. Why not?

French New Year's Meal

The meal will be a feast. Champagne is a must as are good wine, oysters, foie gras and other delicacies. There is no typical French food for the New Year's celebration, and people may decide to cook whatever they like, or even do something buffet style if they are having a party. However it's served, it will be delicious gourmet food, for sure. And if you are not careful and drink too much, you may end up with a serious gueule de bois (hangover).

Typical New Year's Gifts in France

People don't traditionally exchange gifts for the New Year, although I know some people who do. However, around the time of Christmas and New Year's, it is traditional to give some money to postal workers, deliverymen, the police, a house employee, a nanny or other workers. This is called les étrennes, and how much you give varies greatly, depending on your generosity and ability to pay.

Typical French New Year's Greetings

It is still customary to send out New Year's greetings. Typical ones would be:

Bonne année et bonne santé
Happy New Year and good health

Je vous souhaite une excellente nouvelle année, pleine de bonheur et de succès.
I wish you an excellent New Year, full of happiness and success.

French New Year's Vocabulary

  • le Jour de l'An > New Year's Day
  • la Saint-Sylvestre > New Year's Eve (and the feast day of Saint Sylvester)
  • Bonne année ! > Happy New Year!
  • Bonne année et bonne santé ! > Happy New Year and good health!
  • Une bonne résolution > New Year's resolution
  • Le repas du Nouvel An > New Year's meal
  • Le gui (pronounced with a hard G + ee) > mistletoe
  • Des confettis > confetti
  • Le cotillon > a ball; les cotillons > party novelties such as confetti and streamers
  • Un serpentin > a streamer attached to a whistle
  • Gueule de bois > hangover
  • Les étrennes > New Year's Day present; New Year's tip