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Saint-Sylvestre (New Year’s Eve)

Le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre (New Year’s Eve)

The new year (le nouvel an) is fast approaching.

In France, as elsewhere, New Year’s Eve (called le réveillon du jour de l’an) is typically celebrated with friends. It’s common to celebrate the new year with champagne and fireworks.

But did you know that, unlike in English, New Year’s Eve also has a different name? In French, New Year’s Eve is also known as le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.

New Years Eve

But who was Saint Sylvester?

Saint Sylvester was pope (pape) from 314 to 335 AD. Not much is known about his life, although the church grew in power during his tenure, erecting such monuments as Santa Croce in Jerusalem and the old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Most of our common knowledge about Saint Sylvester is through unverified (and potentially fictional) stories about his relationship with the Emperor Constantine. One fictitious story stated that, upon administering blessed water, Sylvester cured Constantine of leprosy. Supposedly, it was Sylvester’s miracle that influenced Constantine to convert to Christianity.

The Feast of Saint Sylvester is celebrated around the world on December 31, because this was the day he died in 335. Today, many countries around the world—and not just France—refer to New Year’s Eve as Silvester, or a similar name in tribute of the ancient pope. For example, in Germany, Christian households traditionally celebrate Saint Sylvester’s Day by melting Silvesterblei (Silvester lead) in a spoon and dropping it into cold water, then divining the year ahead based on the shape of the cooled metal. In Switzerland, men dress as Silvesterklaus and ring large bells to welcome in the new year.

In France, la Saint Sylvestre is celebrated with friends, good food, champagne, and firecrackers or noisemakers. But there is one more tradition that is often reserved for this special day: le baiser sous le gui (kissing under the mistletoe). Unlike in some Anglophone cultures, where kissing under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition, this ancient ritual is reserved for la Saint-Sylvestre in France.

Bonne année!

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Blog submitted by: Alex at The French Property Network - Cle France.


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