01 January 2011

Say it now!

One night this week on the TF1 evening news, the anchorman announced that it is permissible, according to les bonnes manières and people who practice them, to express happy new year wishes starting on December 26!

Until now, the rule in France has always been that expressing such wishes prior to midnight on December 31 was bad form. I guess that's a French custom (or superstition) that is changing. Fact is, nearly everybody here is still very careful not to say Bonne Année before January 1. If somebody does say it, he or she apologizes or qualifies the expression to acknowledge that a rule is being broken.

One French friend who now knows a lot of "Anglo-Saxon" expatriates in the Touraine region told me the other day that she now has to cope with expressing two sets of holiday greetings at year's end. The Anglo-Saxons expect a Christmas card and a Merry Christmas, whereas French people are indifferent to Christmas greetings of that sort. Sending Christmas greetings is just not important in the culture. People might say « Bon Noël » to you in the shops and markets on December 23 or 24, but they might as well be saying « Bon appétit ! » The family dinner on Christmas Eve is sacrosanct. Meanwhile, you won't get any Christmas cards from friends and neighbors.

French people do celebrate Christmas, of course. It's a family holiday, are religious holiday. It has become more commercialized, with present-buying, especially for children, at fever pitch in the days before December 25. There are decorations and lights in the cities, towns, and villages, and even on some houses, at Christmastime. But the holiday itself is a private affair.

However, French people do expect new year's greetings in January. This month, it is very important and polite to seek out friends, close acquaintances, neighbors, and others who are important to your daily life and "present your best wishes" — presenter vos meilleurs vœux — to them for a happy and healthy 2011. A telephone call will do, and it's nice to send a Happy New Year card to special people. You have until January 31 to express or send greetings and wishes, I've been told. Don't mention prosperity, however, the way we Americans tend to do. Talking about money is in bad taste.

So today I can finally say it:

Très Bonne Année à Toutes et à Tous.
En vous souhaitant une année 2011
pleine de joie et de bonheur —
et surtout bonne santé ! —
je vous envoie tous mes bons vœux...

Happy New Year


  1. Profound wishes for a happy new year. I think I am safe in saying this now since it is new years there (but not here quite yet!)

  2. And a very Happy New Year to you and Walt, too. Hope to see you this year. Said that last year and we never made it to the Tourraine at all. So, in 2011, we must.

  3. What a year 2010 was with your renovations. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I have enjoyed reading about it all in your blog, and look forward to more of the same.
    Very best wishes to you and Walt for a peaceful, happy and healthy 2011.

    Meilleurs vœux et bonne année 2011

  4. Happy New Year to you as well -- with many many thanks for your wonderful posts -- they help me feel connected to a country I have to love from afar.

  5. I wonder if this has to do with separation of Church and State that, fortunately, is absolutely effective in France, contrary to the U.S. where, unfortunately, religion, mostly the Judeo-Christian one, is encroaching more and more on civilian rule.

  6. Happy New Year to you and Walt. Looking forward to seeing you later this year.

    Bob & Norma

  7. See, now... it's so easy to offend someone without in any way realizing that you have, or intending to! In fact, sending those "Merry Christmas/Have a great new year!" wishes in mid December would only have been meant with the most sincere good intentions... and, because the tradition is different in different countries, you could be irritating people without having the slightest concept of it. I can just imagine Americans living in the U.S. being a bit put off because French folks living here might not wish them greetings for the season until January... and neither would know. Good thing for blogs and the Internet bringing knowledge and understanding closer to us all!

    Happy New Year! (oh, and just forget about my having wished you that yesterday *LOL*)


  8. rut roh....i sent my daughter's french mother in law a xmas card & havent wished her a bonne annee yet.....2 faux pas.....off to a good start!

    happy 1/1/11 to u

  9. Boldog Uj Evet kivanok! Wishing you and Walt a Happy New Year in Hungarian where I think it might have been ok to wish it yesterday too.

  10. !Feliz año nuevo!

    I've enjoyed reading your blog this year, especially the posts on the French language. I've learned a lot, and the stories make it easy to remember, Professor B.

    Merci pour tout!

  11. I wonder what Bill O'Reilly would think about those horrible french people not saying "merry Christmas".
    But people say "bonnes fetes" (happy holidays) and I guess that would include Christmas, if said before Christmas.
    Anyway, happy new year to both of you as well as your readers!

  12. Enjoyed this post a lot and looking forward to all your posts in 2011. Wishing you good health, a good garden and much happiness in the New Year.

  13. ˜*•. ˜"*°•.˜"*°•.•°*" ˜.•°*"˜ .•*˜•°*" ˜
    ˜"*°•.˜"* Bonne année *"˜. •° *"˜
    .•*˜ .•°* " ˜.•° * "˜"*°•.˜"*°•. ˜*•

    Je vais ma faire taper sur les doigts par le cousin pour le souhait de la prospérité :-)

  14. Oh dear. Now I'm scuffing my feet in embarrassment for wishing all and sundry Bonne annee too early. Who knew? On the other hand, I haven't yet sent out any Christmas cards, so perhaps that balances the scales a bit.

    Bonne annee to all.

  15. Happy New Year and Thank you for a very entertaining blog

  16. Happy New Year! And thanks for another very informative post.


    p.s. The word verification is working for me again. Maybe it just needed to be kicked into 2011!

  17. aaaaahhhh so civilized in France....especially when you compare it to the spending, christian, Be good or Santa won't bring you anything frenzy that goes on in the US. We just don't get it.

    Happy New Year!

    Victoria, Bellingham, WA

  18. Hé Cousine,
    Le cousin rigole doucement. Dans mes vœux il a toujours : Santé et galette." Et ce n'est pas celle des Rois dont il s'agit!

  19. Happy New Year to Ken, Walt and all the bloggers. I've really gotten a thrill our of reading about all of your walks, meals, excursions and even about Bertie's antics! I look forward to a new year of your writings, Ken!

  20. Bonjour CHM,

    Tu es pardonné, tu sais, parce que tout le monde sait que les Américains ne pensent qu'à ça.

    Word verification : couterse. Orthographe de la prononciation américaine de l'adjectif français coûteux/coûteuse. Est-ce que tu arrives à bien les vendre là-bas, tes vœux ?


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