Aug 162010

(asked by Ché from England)

I’m looking for a little advice but may well have missed the deadline for getting an answer before my trip. Either way the answers maybe of interest to your readers or future tourists.
I have kindly been invited to spend New Years Eve with my boyfriends family in Lille. In England, New Year’s Eve is about partying, drunken antics, laughter and tears. All coupled with the feeling that your pants are being pulled down (figuratively speaking) by the pubs, clubs and taxis taking you home.

I’ve looked into the French traditions and it seems to be a far more wholesome experience. A feast with family and friends to celebrate La Saint-Sylvestre. Can you tell me any more things about this social event, a modern perspective? Are gifts expected? I’ve heard that the French don’t ‘do’ greeting cards, is this true? Will it be a casual affair or are people expected to dress for best?
Any help on this festive problem would be appreciated.
Best wishes and Bonne Année!
Yeah, this is how behind I am with answering questions…
So I’d say the rule about New Year’s Eve in France is that there are no rules nor “official” way to celebrate it.
Everybody has their own ways to spend that night, their own “traditions,” etc.
While Christmas is a night spent at home with family, food and presents in most French households, (regardless of religion by the way, except for a handful of Christians, for most French people Christmas is as non-religious as it gets)  New Year’s Eve is more an “anything goes” type of night.
Younger people tend to go out with friends and the night will be about “partying, drunken antics, laughter and tears,” older people (i.e. people with kids) will spend it at home or in restaurants (who usually have special rip-off events on that night).
Nobody offers presents as that was done seven days earlier. Greeting cards can be sent during January, but you don’t have to.
A side note about greeting cards. Sending greeting cards for every possible reason is an Anglo thing, the French are luckily quite impervious to that. The reason is that Hallmark is not all powerful in France, actually most people have never heard of it, because yeah, this whole sending cards in the US, UK and more, has nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with Hallmark brainwashing people into believing they have to send cards for their neighbor’s dog’s birthday and their grandpa’s coronary bypass anniversary.
Well, in France, we have the florist lobbies inventing new holidays to make more business (Grandmother’s Day anyone?), luckily not many people fall for it.
Back to New Year’s Eve.
What can I add?
Oh, contrarily to most European countries, New Year’s Eve tends to be an indoor event in France. Which in my mind makes sense, as it is Winter, why would I want to go catch death in a cold street when I can get drunk in a warm place? So no large gatherings (the Champs-Élysées in Paris may be an exception, but even there I suspect that it’s mostly foreign tourists, I don’t know I’ve never been on New Year’s Eve), no fireworks and such things that are quite common in some other European countries.
Dress code? Well it really depends where you go. While some people with go all out, buying a special dress for the occasion and such, personally, I’ve always dressed like every other day.
Food? I’d say that most French people think there can’t be a New Year’s Eve without a special dinner, some other (me included) think that food is important for Christmas and for all other 363 days of the year, but on New Year’s it’s all about the booze.
But once again, it depends on how you celebrate it.
My favorite New Year’s memories (or lack of memory of the last part of the night) were in my late 20′s, when my friends and I would decide at about 6PM what we would do for the night, and what we would do was going to our favorite pub or bar and get trashed there until they kick us out because the sun is rising and the staff wants to sleep a little.
Nowadays, I’m older, married and those kinds of things, so I tend to have a much more low-key celebration, at home with food, friends and family (and booze, but now I remember most of the night).
I guess that sums it up.
I’m sure a bunch of people will comment on that saying that their New Year’s Eve experiences are very different, and that’s the point, there isn’t one way of celebrating New Year’s in France but almost as many as there are French people.

More Questions Answered:

  5 Responses to “"Seasonal" Question…”

  1. I think it depends on whom you'll spend New Year's Eve with. As David said, between friends it's pretty much all about partying… I guess that if you spend it with your family, it will be more traditionnal, that is a big three-hour long dinner.

    There are fireworks in every city, but since it's winter I agree with David, it's more fun to wait for National Day's fireworks (14th of July).

    As for myself, I spend it with the friends I made at the beginning of my studies, this is actually a good opportunity to meet. We gather at a friend's house, and every year there is a new theme : we love to dress up and make fun at each other. Last year it was "Vegetal". Everybody had to wear something green and a vegetable or a plant/flower. As we enjoy food, all of us prepare sth to eat and we end up having a Christmas-like dinner. And we never forget the booze! (engineers students here).

  2. I much prefer spending New Years with friends in France as family have huge dinner and by midnight I have eaten far too much and am nearly asleep. At least with friends we drink, drink and drink and party until well into the morning.

    My best place to spend New Years is in the French Alps - get up early the next day to ski (if you're not too drunk) and you'll find the slopes empty

    ps. I wish the French did send each other cards, not just Christmas, but birthday cards and postcards. I cannot stand when someone gives me a birthday present two months after my birthday, I would much rather receive a card on my birthday to know that that person is thinking of me, otherwise what's the point??

  3. "get up early the next day to ski"
    Usually, when I celebrate New Year's with friends, there is no January 1st…

    Concerning cards, you know that there are other ways for people to show that they think about it (phone calls, e-mails, etc. I'd rather receive one of those rather than a stereotyped card that is usually either of bad taste or incredibly tacky and that clutters my drawers next because I feel bad throwing it away).

  4. “…this whole sending cards in the US, UK and more, has nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with Hallmark brainwashing people into believing they have to send cards for their neighbor’s dog’s birthday and their grandpa’s coronary bypass anniversary.”

    I think that sums up what I feel about the whole greeting card phenomenon. I’m an American and I cannot tell you how impossible it is to find an appropriate birthday card for your 86 year old grandmother for less than $4 (the kangaroo who ends his ‘Hoppy Birthday’ pun with a comment about his dead parents won’t do). And everyone expects that if they send *your child* a card that they will receive an immediate and heartfelt phone call of gratitude from said child. No 5 year old in history has been that enthused by a piece of cardboard. If there is money inside of course the call is made, but sheesh…

    Sorry that was long. This all makes me wonder. Do the French send holiday cards or letters at all? In my family (of mostly Swedish descent) we send a letter, it’s frugal.

    • As I said in the post, people will send some New Year’s cards, but they’re very sober type of cards, not $4 each extravaganza.
      Also, I suspect that the tradition is dying out, being replaced by New Year’s e-mails, once again, not rip off digital cards, but just a few lines in a normal e-mail.
      Of course it will vary from people to people. Some will completely fall for the big season greeting Hallmark scam, some will send nothing at all.

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