The New Year,
A time of celebration all over the world. A time to make resolutions, or not. A time of reflect on happy times, or mistakes made and to remember loved ones lost.
Brought up in Scotland, where the focus is always on the year which has passed, New Year has always seemed to me a rather melancholy time of year. Particularly in the North of Scotland where weather conditions drive all but the most adventurous, or those whose work necessitates going outdoors, to stay indoors in front of a roaring fire. This coupled with the short dark winter days seems to encourage the tales of ghosts and phantoms with which Scotland is so closely associated. From my childhood I remember the visitors and stories, dances and ceilidhs. Black coal and my father rushing to open the back door at midnight to let the old year out and then the front door to let the New Year in
Now that I live in France, it has fascinated me that the New Year celebrations here focus on the year to come. It is the coming of the New Year that is celebrated, not the passing of the old. Looking forward rather than backwards.
In France, the revillion de fin d’annee is typically a celebration to be spent more with friends than family. Generally, it is considered bad luck to wish anyone a Happy New Year before midnight on the 31st December.
Cards are not commonly sent however with the focus on the year to come New Year cards may be sent during the whole of January. Local town halls often have "Cérémonie de Voeux" sometime in early January which may or may not coincide with the traditional eating of the Galette des Rois. This ceremony usually takes the form of an apéritif to wish everybody good wishes (voeux) for the New Year.
The Fête des Rois is a traditional celebration in France on January 6. This is not a public holiday and the day is celebrated on the first Sunday of January, unless the first Sunday falls on New Year’s day, in which case it’s celebrated the following Sunday.
Two weeks after Christmas this tradition celebrates what is officially called the Epiphany or day of the kings and has its origins in ancient Roman and Christian traditions.
A Roman festival called “Les Saturnales” was a festival of prosperity during which masters would serve their servants, offering gifts –often a cake with a bean inside-called the fève. The servant finding the fève was nominated king for a day.
The Epiphany in Christian tradition commemorates the voyage of the three wise men to the birthplace of Jesus. The wise men became kings. As a consequence, they are called “les Rois Mages” (the Mages). In 1801 the date for the celebration of Epiphany was set on January 6th.
The “ Galette des Rois” is a special “cake” made for the celebration and contains either one fève or two ( a king and a queen) per galette. The word fève refers to a type of bean, which was originally used in the cake. The fève has changed greatly over the centuries and it’s now most commonly made of plastic and represents a small figure in the shape of a king, and queen if there are two.
.The person or persons finding the piece of cake with the fève become king, and queen if there are two, for the day and is/are entitled to wear the golden colour paper crown(s), supplied with the cake.
In France, again with the focus on the year ahead, there tends to be no office Christmas parties, instead an aperitif in January is more likely, similarly with clubs and associations, celebratory dinners often take place in Janaury.
However New Year is celebrated once January is over, it is time to clear up the debris and get on with the year ahead.