Happy New Year in France


Bonne année !

It’s not too late. The French may not have a tradition of sending Christmas cards, but they do exchange good wishes for the New Year. In early January when meeting neighbours or acquaintances, or on entering local shops, French people exchange the traditional greetings: “Bonne année !”, “Meilleurs vœux !” or, more formally, “Je vous présente mes meilleurs vœux pour 2015”.

Written greetings are also numerous, whether to business contacts or simply to friends or family members at a distance. Sales of special New Year cards in shops are fairly limited though. Many companies have special cards printed; others simply send their business cards with a handwritten message. It is the gesture rather than the form that counts. Of course, for that aged aunt or grandmother, a letter or card is still highly prized, but nowadays it is usually a phone call or an email. In the past, it was expected that the younger members of a family send their good wishes first and that older people then replied, but with a more relaxed approach to family hierarchies this is not really a firm rule nowadays.

What is important is the timing. While many rush to send an SMS to close family and friends at midnight on the last day of the year, the French consider that they have the whole month of January to send their written good wishes. However, the last day of January is a cut-off date. After that, it is better not to send them at all than to send them in February.

In all villages and towns in France, there is also a formal occasion, in January, when the Mayor presents his or her New Year wishes, “La cérémonie des vœux”. Local dignitaries are present and local residents are invited to attend. As well as New Year good wishes, the Mayor’s speech often outlines projects for the coming year and may even be a thinly disguised political speech if there are local elections in the offing. The occasion is, of course, rounded off by the traditional apéritif.

The French President has a heavy programme of New Year ceremonies in January starting with his good wishes to the nation, a televised broadcast on New Year’s Eve. This year, sadly, there have been many other ceremonies and speeches to the nation which were not planned. All of these speeches finish with the words, “Vive la République ! Vive la France!”.

Kolibri Languages Practical Guide ‘Meeting the French’ will bring you more insights about the French and their way of life

Pam Bourgeois


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