First, a slightly belated Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you have a happy, healthy and peaceful 2014. Serial over-indulgence during the festive season followed by self-enforced repose has kept me away from blogging for a few days. But I’ve been pondering the ways in which the French celebration of New Year differs from the British version.
1. New Year greetings
It’s considered bad luck to wish people ‘Bonne Année’ (Happy New Year) before midnight strikes on 31st December. Instead, you should wish them ‘bonne fin d’année’ (happy end of the year). A French friend once got very agitated when she thought I was going to wish her a premature Bonne Année and cut me off in mid-sentence.
The French don’t generally send Christmas cards. They are prohibitively expensive, anyway, in France. But you might receive a New Year card wishing you ‘Meilleurs voeux’ or – more likely these days – an email.
It’s customary to wish French friends and neighbours ‘meilleurs voeux’ (best wishes) for the coming year. Around here, they tend to add ‘surtout pour la santé’ (above all for good health). And everyone agrees that ‘c’est l’essentiel’ (it’s the most important thing). When my yoga class resumes each January, the first session starts with a blizzard of kissing and good wishing. It can take 10 minutes before we get started.
Politicians from the President downwards take the opportunity of the New Year to wish everyone their ‘voeux’. This is the traditional skating over the previous year and presentation of optimistic plans for the coming one.
In smaller communes, it’s not uncommon for the mairie to issue all the inhabitants with an invitation to a pot d’amitié (drinks party), where the maire offers his/her voeux. Our own commune is too populous to ask everyone, so they restrict it to people over a certain age.
This year, the atmosphere will be particularly charged owing to the impending municipal elections in March – the first since 2008.
3. New Year’s resolutions
The French don’t appear to make resolutions. Some English friends spent part of New Year’s Eve explaining to their French neighbours the point of resolutions. But maybe the French don’t feel they need to. A recent Telegraph article apparently said that the difference between the two nations’ approaches to Christmas is that we Brits behave as if we haven’t eaten for 12 months. No wonder, then, that we resolve to give up drinking, go on diets, join a gym etc. The French are perhaps more abstemious.
Some local shops give their regular customers a New Year’s present. I can’t remember this happening in the UK. Most often, you get a calendar with the shop’s name prominently inscribed on it. Since you can use only so many of them, the flammable ones tend to end up in the wood-burner chez nous.
We always make sure we get to the pharmacie soon after New Year. In our early years here, they used to issue soap that didn’t lather or evil-smelling perfume. Since then, their presents have improved markedly. One year, we received a very useful kitchen timer/alarm clock/thermometer. Last year, it was a key ring with a built-in LED torch. Today, there was nothing. Perhaps they spent too much on building the brand new out-of-town pharmacie in 2013 or maybe it’s just a sign of the times.
5. Galette des Rois
La galette des rois is the traditional cake that people eat to celebrate Epiphany (6th January). Although not strictly a New Year custom, you see them in the shops from Christmas onwards. They come with a cardboard crown and a fève or charm hidden inside. A fève was traditionally a dried bean but these days it’s a usually a small porcelain trinket. The person who finds the fève is the king or queen, who wears the crown and chooses a consort.
Epiphany (Twelfth Night) is also the time for taking down the Xmas decorations in both countries, although our commune leaves them up for weeks. Want to know what to do with your Christmas tree?
- If it’s rooted, plant it out.
- If not, some communes have a shredder at the local déchetterie (tip) – or you can dump it there.
- Burn it on the fire, but watch out, it goes up like tinder. Ours does service as kindling in the wood-burner.
Beware; dumping it in a hedgerow or wood will earn you a fine.
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