(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.