Letters to Paris: 'Happy New Year'


By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French

The Croft Magazine // In this week's Letter to Paris, Xander Brett gives insight into how New Year's is celebrated in France.

27th December, 2020

France’s countdown to 2021 will, like most years, be a modest one: a projected display on the Arc de Triomphe, following a presidential address at 8pm. Fireworks are only ever saved only for Bastille Day, so this year will be no different in lacking public gatherings. New Year has always been less a national festival, more a private one. Restaurants fill and friends gather. Costume parties are strangely popular, and another large feast is consumed. This year, it will just be the feast: a whole eight courses of it. It’s also known as ‘Le Réveillon’, just like on Christmas Eve, and once again includes such delicacies as foie gras and champagne.

French New Year is known as ‘La Saint-Sylvestre’. December 31 is the Feast of Saint Sylvester, the 31st pope, responsible for converting Emperor Constantine to Christianity. Historically, New Year was celebrated on various days during the year… on 1st March in the 6th and 7th centuries, on Christmas Day during Charlemagne’s reign, on Easter Sunday in the 10th century, and on April 1 until the 16th century, at which point King Charles IX issued the Edict of Roussillon, which set New Year definitively on New Year’s Day.

Institut de France | Epigram / Xander Brett

Like us, the French make New Year’s resolutions and, like us, they rarely stick to them. Interestingly, rather than writing Christmas cards, the French instead send cards at New Year, written on the morning of January 1st and sent early that month. Kissing under the mistletoe, too, is left until midnight on New Year’s Eve. That kiss will mark the end of a tough year for many, and the start of a more optimistic one, with a vaccine on the way and the promise of life returning to usual.

Happy New Year!

Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett

Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris'.