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Who Knew? (Top Three Surprises- New Year's in France)

Why a pig? In German, "To have had a pig" means

had a stroke of good luck. Unless you're for dinner.

Today being December 31, I wondered:

How is New Year’s in France different from in the US?


An hour later, when I came up for air from my usual deep dive down the rabbit hole of research, I didn’t exactly make a resolution – but I made a decision.


In 2024, I’ll aim for EZ (starting with using 2 letters instead of 4 to spell "easy").

aka The great is the enemy of the good


An exhaustive list is exhausting – for the writer and the reader. So I’ll focus on the Top Three Things that might surprise you. There will be a quiz.


1. Mistletoe

Kissing under it – le baiser sous le gui (hard “g”) – is a New Year’s, not a Christmas tradition for the lovey-dovey here. At midnight, please.

Adogslifephoto | 

2. No Ball Drop

There’s no national countdown on TV, no Times Square. Everyone does their own – or not. What they do do is make a lot of noise to scare away evil spirits – which for me is cognac ;) It also involves yelling Bonne Année, blowing noisemakers and hurling les serpentins (snakes - or streamers).


3. New Year’s Wishes

In France, more people do New Year cards than Xmas cards. My theory is it’s because religion was banned during the French Revolution and though church is now ok, secularism (la laïcité) remains.

And you MUST greet everyone with a Bonne Année the first time you see them or your name is mud. This is similar to not saying Bonjour when you enter a store or get on a bus. Unthinkable. Ostracism. I plan to be safe and say it to anyone I see.

New Year’s is also when you give tips to service folk – les êtrennes (from the Latin strena, meaning favorable omen).


Sidebar (aka 3.a): firemen in France go door-to-door selling calendars to raise money. This year, there was a scandalous scam where pretend pompiers sold fake calendars to unsuspecting kitty cat lovers (they used those pix rather than ones of the town square etc). Sidebar question: why no fireman cheesecake pix? Everyone knows fireman are pretty much the hunkiest guys on the planet.

 from book by Fred Goudon (merci!)

Plus, a few bonus items: (I’m really not good at short and sweet, am I?)


1. The word “Reveillon.”

You’re not crazy. Both Xmas and New Year’s eves are called le Reveillon - from se réveiller, or to wake up – because you have to stay up until the morning.


2. The food.

You’re not crazy. Xmas and New Year’s often have largely the same menu. Champagne, fois gras (or huitres, oysters), goose or duck, la bûche  (a cake shaped like a log, often ice cream, making celiacs like me heureuse).

Oysters in Arcachon - 2022


3. Another word.

New Year’s is also called La Saint-Sylvestre, after the saint who died on December 31. Legend has it he cured Constantine of leprosy, which induced the Emperor to get baptized as a Christian.

Got leprosy? Who ya gonna call? Saint Sylvestre!


If you’re like me, you’ll be “What? Why does a masculine noun (le saint) get a feminine modifier (la)?" Because it’s an abbreviation for la Fête du Saint-Sylvestre. If you’re ever perplexed by the gender of a noun (who else was taught words ending in “e” are feminine?), an abbreviation might be the culprit.

LASTLY (I swear) -

There are crazy people everywhere. They do the polar bear swim here as well - Le Bain du Nouvel An. Last year's in Antibes broke records. It was part of an annual triathlon, an event for even crazier people.

What traditions surprised you? From France or elsewhere? Share in the comments below (don't drip champagne or oysters slurp on your keyboard!)

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