Le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre – New Year Eve

“Pleasure without champagne is purely artificial.”
Oscar Wilde
On New Year’s Eve, Saint-Sylvestre, réveillon, is the French New Year’s eve party, usually held with family and friends it can be anything from a soiree at home or a gala ball full of costumes, glamour and dancing. This is France we are talking about and so, of course there is a magnificent meal of many courses, much wine and much revelry that must continue until well past midnight and well into the New Year’s Day.
Champagne flows throughout the evening; there may be other fine wines with the food and brandy as the digestive, but the feast will begin with Champagne on arrival and Champagne to ring in the New Year at midnight.
At 8 pm, the president of the French republic addresses the people of France on television, with the presidential greeting “Les voeux présidentiels”. This speech is broadcast from the Élysée Palace-the official residence of the French President and the French equivalent of the White House. During this presidential greeting, the president takes stock of the past year and expresses his political vision and his wishes for the future of France.
In French culture people will not start whishing everyone a happy New Year, “Bonne Année” until after midnight, never before. However, they may then go on to wish everyone a happy New Year and “best wishes”, (meilleurs Voeux) for the rest of the week! The exception is the president, who wishes his people a happy New Year during the presidential speech well before midnight.
Celtic druids believed in mistletoe’s mystical power to bring good luck and ward off evil, in France on New Year’s eve the tradition is to kiss under the mistletoe, “S’embrasser Sous le Gui” which is believed to bring good luck to both participants. At Midnight amidst all the cries of Bonne Année and the general cacophony people will begin kissing everyone around them. A ‘faire la bise’ is to give a kiss on the cheek and it is sometimes one or two on each cheek depending on what part of France you come from.
The ancient Babylonians are believed to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions some 4,000 years ago. In France it is customary to make resolutions about health, career, romance, travel and all manner of ambitions for the twelve months ahead.
New Year’s gifts called “Les étrennes” are given out during the first week of the New Year as a way to show gratitude to those people who serve us, are staff or simply take care of us throughout the year, sometimes this is in the form of cash and not dissimilar to the little ‘red pockets’ stuffed with money for Chinese New Year.
Another lovely French tradition at this time of year, (although mostly in the north) is the giving of ‘gaufre seche de nouvel ans’, cute little dried waffles offered to children in the neighbourhood or friends who drop by to wish you a happy New Year.
The highlight, is of course the magnificent dinner one can look forward to on New Year’s Eve; a traditional French New Year’s le réveillon, (wakening) menu will involve an exceptional presentation of the classic French dishes:
charcuterie, terrines, foie gras, Truffles, escargot, oysters, scallops, smoked salmon, shrimps, sea urchin, game, cheeses and dessert. This will be accompanied by a selection of appropriately matched fine wines throughout the feast.
The meal and the revelry will stretch on past midnight but, the celebration of the New Year will continue on for several days, until the 6th of January. The Epiphany marks the end of the celebrations and the feasts of réveillon; how else should we expect the French to acknowledge the occasion but with the baking of a cake!? The traditional ‘King’s Cake’, the famous ‘Galette des Rois’.

Written by Darren Gall