Bonne Année - Happy New Year
While you may hear the celebration called a fête, you are unlikely to hear it called a new years eve celebration. Although it may be said on occasion, it is far more likely that you will hear the day called La fête de Saint Sylvestre. A more formal name would be Le Réveillon de Saint Sylvester (the feast of Saint Sylvestre). There is an easy explanation as to why Saint Sylvestre commands such a priviledged date on the French calendar. For centuries, long before they had a constitutional freedom of religion, France was officially a Catholic country. Sylvestre was the Catholic Pope for 21 years, beginning in the year 314. The year 314 seems almost incredible to consider for Americans, but not so incredible for Europe. It also seems unlikely that an ancient Pope would command such a memorable place in the modern world. There is more to his story than merely being the Pope. Sylvestre was Pope at the time of the Roman ruler Constantine. Contantine was the first king to give religious freedom to Christians and to outlaw their mistreatment. He was also the first Roman king to be baptised and to credit the Christian God for his victories. He was the first king to march into war with symbols of Christ and the cross on his shields and flags. Without a long history lesson, I can just tell you that the fortunes of the Papacy and Catholicism changed forever because of Constantine. What he put into motion led to eventual sweeping religious changes across Europe. Pope Sylvestre is given credit for converting Constantine to Christianity and for gaining a royal proclamation declaring that Popes have temporal authority which is unlike the authority of men and kings which ends with their deaths. Pope Sylvestre died on December 31st in the year 335 AD. Thus the date was his forever in France. The impact of his historic record as well as the folklore and myths surrounding Pope Sylvestre have all contributed to his eventual beatification to sainthood and his firmly ensconced position as the namesake of the French new year's eve celebrations.
Parisians celebrate the new year with wonderful food, fois gras and champagne. The more you eat, the luckier you will be in the coming year. Alot of time will be spent with family on new years eve. There will also be dances around the city and lots of public and private parties celebrating the new year. Besides going to the Eiffel tower to join the crowds awaiting the midnight fireworks, you could also go to one of the parties or music venues. Even the Paris Opera has a tradition of presenting a new years eve ballet program at the Opera Bastille. You could grab tickets and go to an outstanding production of Don Quichotte. When you leave the ballet or one of the dances, or when the fireworks begin at the Eiffel Tower, you may be surprised to learn that the french have a midnight kiss under the mistletoe. In France, mistletoe is a new year's eve tradition instead of a Christmas tradition.
When it's time to go home, you can take a free ride on the Paris Metro. During large national or citywide events, the government keeps the metro stations open later than usual and everyone rides for free. Now that's what I call a designated driver!
On new years day, family members and friends may exchange small gifts and will begin a week of celebrations which end on the 6th of January to coincide with the Christian celebration of epiphany. One of the world's best parades is the Paris New Year's Parade. It travels through a couple of cities and through several neighborhoods of Paris. It's a 2-day parade with singers, musicians and dancers. It's a fantastic parade. New years celebrations are very popular in France and everyone enjoys the little get-togethers with friends and extended family to exchage gifts and share sweets. When the 6th of January finally rolls around, most people celebrate with a king cake (Galette des Rois) and everyone hopes to be the lucky recipiant of the tiny figurine (feve) which was baked into the cake. That person is crowned king for the day or at least the king of that party. The cake is named for the three kings which had their epiphany of the Christ child.
So there you have it - a fistful of tradition surrounding the new year in France. We may have a great celebration at Times Square, but don't feel sorry for Parisians. They keep the party going for a week.
Tous nos meilleurs vœux de bonne et heureuse année.
All our best wishes for a good and happy new year, Mimi