New Year’s Eve in France is held on 31st December but it wasn’t always that way.
From the 6th Century, New Year’s Day in France would have been celebrated on the 1st March. In the 9th Century Charlemagne changed the New Year date to Christmas, in the 10th Century the Capetian kings changed it to Easter and it wasn’t until as late as 1564 that New Year’s Day became the 1st January as decreed by King Charles IX of France.
31st December is also Saint Sylvester’s Day but there is no link to the fact that it is New Year’s Eve. Sylvester was a Pope of Roman origin who reigned in the 4th Century and is credited with being in charge when Christianity was recognised as of the official religion of the Roman Empire.
How is New Year’s Eve in France celebrated?
Well, as you might imagine in a country where gastronomy is recognised by UNESCO – food plays an important part. Traditionally friends and family get together to celebrate the arrival of the New Year with a celebratory dinner called le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre.
At midnight everyone exchanges bises (kisses) under the mistletoe. Unlike in some countries where Christmas is the customary time for kissing under the mistletoe – New Year’s Eve is where this is done in France. Depending on your relationship – it’s a kiss on the lips or the cheek! Everyone wishes each other well for the New Year and then the night carries on – usually ending very late and with plenty of champagne or sparkling wine being poured.
Firecrackers may be thrown in the streets (they’re legal in France) so don’t be surprised to hear loud bangs throughout the night where ever you are.
On New Year’s Day it is customary to exchange gifts and cards (and often for several days after) and make new resolutions. You should greet everyone you meet with a “Bonne Année” greeting right up until the third week of January!
New Year’s Eve in Paris
For most people in Paris, the Champs-Elysées is the place to be on New Year’s Eve if you want to be in a party atmosphere. The whole of this world famous avenue will be crowded from 9.00 pm onwards as everyone starts to congregate to count down the start of the New Year. At midnight the Eiffel Tower does a celebratory light dance, twinkling all over to loud cheers from the crowds.
There are rules that you should not be carrying bottles of alcohol where the crowds are congregating in the City – just be aware that there are fines if you are caught breaking the rules.
A word of warning: keep your belongings safe while you’re in the crowds at this time, pickpockets are around and for them this time of year is perfect. You may have had a few glasses of champagne to celebrate and be less aware than usual. Don’t be caught out – read our top tips for a safe Paris visit.
Another popular place to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Paris is the Montmartre area – with a huge choices of great restaurants, bars, shows and clubs, there is plenty to do and see but it is less crowded than the Champs-Elysées. If you do decide to celebrate in a restaurant it might be worth checking the dress code beforehand. Although on the whole dressing up to the nines is not de rigeur in France, you might find that on this occasion, you’ll need to glam up.
The end of the holiday season is Epiphany on 6 January, the 12th day of Christmas. In France the celebrations of the day include a traditional cake called la galette des rois – the cake of Kings. (Read more about the galette des rois here, recipe for galette des rois).