What they never tell you about January traditions in France

In January, France gets slowly back to work after a 2 weeks break. Every French person talks about their family Christmas and their New Year’s Eve gueule de bois (hangover). And how they need a few days off to recover from holidays. 🙂

But what nobody tells you, is that after Christmas traditions, come a few January traditions.

2 of which can lead you to a cultural faux-pas that may cost you all year long!

What are these?

This is what we will see now. So you can start this new year du bon pied (start off on the right foot).

Always start with a « Bonne année ! »

Bonne année !

is THE first thing you have to say to friends, colleagues and family when you talk to them for the first time in January.
And all January long. In France, you have one month to souhaiter la bonne année.

Warning: It is as important as saying Bonjour first thing and only once to people you meet. The bonne année applies to the first communication so it can be talking, texting, emailing, calling…

In an email:

For example, on the first email you send to a friend in January, you start with

Salut !

Bonne année !

Then your email starts.

On the phone:

Same with a phone call. Even if, as you speak, you can say more than just « Bonne année ! ».

You’d say to a friend:

Salut Julie ! Ca va ? Bonne année vu qu’on ne s’est pas encore croisé !

(se croiser = to meet)

And to a colleague:

Bonjour Jean ! Tous mes voeux pour cette nouvelle année !

Christmas cards are not so common in France, people and companies will send a card saying « Bonne année » rather than « Joyeux Noël ». But both they are called cartes de voeux.

Avoid cultural faux-pas by forgetting Les étrennes

Les étrennes are a certain amount of money offered as a New Year gift. It can be given inside the family: from a grandparent to a child. But when we talk about « les étrennes », between adults, we usually refer to some money we give to le concierge, le gardien (janitor), la femme de ménage (housecleaner), les pompiers (firemen), les éboueurs (binmen)… as an extra. To thank them for their good work.

Les pompiers, le facteur and les éboueurs sell their calendrier (calendar) door to door from mid December to mid January. It’s up to you to buy it or not and give the amount you wish. We all know about these calendars.

If you have a cleaning lady in your building, a concierge or a janitor, ask your neighbours about the us et coutumes (habits and customs) concerning les étrennes.

Will you be queen of the galette?

La galette des rois is a cake we eat at (and around!) January 6th. We celebrate the arrival of Les Rois Mages (magi). The galette des rois is made of pâte feuilletée (puff pastry) and frangipane. La frangipane is made of almond cream and custard. You can also find galettes without frangipane, filled with apples, many options.

I’ll give you my usual tip: Buy your galette des rois at the boulangerie !

Apart from being delicious (feel free to warm it in your oven), the main trick about the galette des rois is answering « Who will be king or queen? ».

Each galette contains une fêve (lucky charm), the one who finds it in its slice will be king or queen.

This is how it goes:

– We cut slices of the galette while the youngest hides under the table.
– He/She will tell who will have which slices of galette.

– Celle-ci c’est pour qui ?
– Pour papa !

– Then we all eat our galette. (Do not look for the fêve, it’s cheating! Even if many children do)
– And the ones who finds the fêve while munching (careful not to break a teeth, a classic January incident!) says :

J’ai la fêve !
OR J’ai trouvé la fêve !

– She/He shows the fêve and becomes queen or king.
– He receives la couronne (crown) and if there is a second crown, he’ll crown his queen. The queen can crown a king too of course.

We usually eat the galette des rois many times: with our family, friends, at the office… So you have a lot of chances to become queen!
This year, I had 3 in 3 days. And became queen once. 🙂

It is a big deal to children who will wear their crown all day long at school!

Go on, taste the galette! You can also find recipes to bake your own galette online (Google « recette galette ») if you don’t have a boulangerie nearby.

[highlight type= »light »]Challenge: Depending on the region you live in, the traditional cake might change. Let me know in the comments what you’ve tasted in France around Jan. 6th![/highlight]

Did you know all about the galette des rois tradition? What about sharing this article with your friends? They might like to eat a galette too, in the French way!

Bonne année à tous,
du fond du coeur,
(from the bottom of my heart)


Join the conversation!

  • The Gallette des Rois is, of course, the precursor to the King Cake that is ubiquitous in south Louisiana from Twelfth Night until Mardi Gras. The traditions are very similar to those in France and, as in France, there are variations from town to town and family to family. This Wiki entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wik… is a very good explanation (despite a few of the usual Wiki errors and/or contradictions) . Oh, how I miss living ion New Orleans!

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