New Year’s Day, 1 January, is a public holiday here in France.
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As with New Year’s Day around other parts of the world that use the Gregorian calendar, the more significant event occurs at midnight the night before (New Year’s Eve) when the New Year is welcomed in, often noisily with much festivity and partying. New Year’s Eve is also a feast day called le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre in honour of le Saint-Sylvestre, a pope from the 4th century.
Our favourite songs we sing at midnight are ‘Chanson du nouvel An’ (the song of a New Year) and ‘Choral des Adieux’ an adaptation of the Scottish song written by Robert Burns, ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Champagne, sparkling wines, finger foods, mussels, oysters and foie gras are usual treats on the night. At midnight in Paris and many other places, there are fireworks.
The next day, the first day of the year, is usually a lot quieter for the French. There are still parties and gatherings as friends get together, but not at the level of the night before. In France, heart-shaped cakes and king cakes take pride of place in celebrations on the day and during the early parts of January.
In homes, grandparents often deliver little gifts, leurs étrennes, to young grandchildren. These are usually envelopes with a small amount of cash. Although shops are closed on New Year’s Day in France, the January sales are soon upon us and is one of the two crazy sale times of the year (the other in July).
From midnight on New Year’s Eve, to the end of the day on New Year’s Day, the happy greeting from young and old is Bonne année!