LSV Blog by Le Savoir Vivre

There's a little FRENCH in all of us...

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New Year's Wishes and Greetings

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I have always loved to receive greeting cards and I must confess that this year, the harvest has indeed been a meagre one: a single card received by mail! I certainly received many greetings via sms, Facebook, LinkedIn, telephone and e-mail, frequently accompanied by a family panegyric with a photo — always essentially the same one from one year to the next, except the setting changes; it is nonetheless quite nice to receive — or otherwise a virtual greeting card.

However, my heart just was not in it. Where was the joy I used to experience when I opened an envelope to discover a lovely card containing a handwritten note filled with expressions of friendship or tenderness from a family member, friend or relation? You would then waste no time in displaying it along with the others on a small pedestal table or on a chimney as per the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

The decline of the greeting card came about because of social networks, a lack of time, distance, and undoubtedly a lot of laziness, since for many amongst us, sending a greeting card by mail is now commonly seen as a chore and is no longer fashionable. However, if we must place a positive spin on it, the move away from paper greeting cards is certainly more sustainable!

Two years ago, when I returned to France for Christmas, I decided to mail greeting cards to our dear friends. I must say that the result did not really meet my expectations. Few expressions of thanks, no cards mailed in return, in short, no incentive to do it again the following year… I admit that I did not repeat the exercise.

Is this lovely postal tradition on the verge of disappearing?

The tradition of exchanging good wishes is believed to date back to Antiquity.

Back then, people sought to attract the protection of Higher Divine Powers at the time of the return of the Light.

These days, best wishes for the New Year represent our desire to wish each other the best at the beginning of the new year. They are also an expression of respect, esteem, affection, gratitude, sympathy and, in faithful observance of days gone by, politeness.

Before extending best wishes, custom dictates that those who have gathered together for New Year's Eve wish each other a Happy New Year on the twelfth stroke of midnight, as a rule, as they kiss under a bouquet of mistletoe, since its white berries are supposed to repel evil and misfortune. Dating back to the time of the Gauls, this plant was considered sacred.

In France, the first day of the new year has not always been celebrated on January 1st. The date has varied over the centuries.

Then, under Charles IX of France, the Edict of Roussillon Isère (1564), ratified by the Parliament in 1567, fixed January 1st as the first day of the year. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII imposed the Gregorian calendar on the entire Catholic world, and along with it January 1st as the start of the year.

With the French Revolution, France became a secular state. The Republican calendar that was adopted in 1793 fixed September 22nd, the first day of autumn, as the start of the calendar year.

In 1805, Napoleon repealed the Republican calendar and re-established the Gregorian calendar as of 1806.

Up until the end of the 17th century, people observed the age-old French tradition of formally visiting one's loved ones, family and friends, as well as the poor and the sick, during the 15-day period following January 1.

During the 18th century, these highly constraining visits were replaced by calling cards on which people wrote their best wishes and which were delivered — personally, no less — to the homes of loved ones. These customs were eliminated by the revolutionary authorities: "We must stop sending family members best wishes for the new year, those ridiculous and bizarre letters that ancient rules of politeness imposed upon us."

These customs, protocols and Good Manners (visits, calling cards, New Year's celebrations with exchanges of best wishes) were declared crimes punishable by death: "This suspect form of politeness must be punishable by death!" (Frédéric Rouvillois, Histoire de la Politesse)

However, under the Directory, the traditions resumed.

In 1843, the English painter John Calcott Horsley created the first illustrated greeting card with the words "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" that the English reproduced using the technique of lithography and that could now be sent by mail with the invention of the stamp in 1840. This practice gradually spread throughout Europe.

However, in France, while amusing illustrated cards have been printed since the end of the First World War, their wider use is quite recent (dating back to 1940), because for a long time, the general public instead sent long, non-illustrated letters to present best wishes.

Le Savoir-Vivre would like to wish you a wonderful year!

Etiquette Tips:

  • WHEN SENDING BEST WISHES BY MAIL ON A LOVELY ILLUSTRATED GREETING CARD, IT IS IMPERATIVE TO ADD A HAND-WRITTEN NOTE

  • A GREETING CARD IS ALWAYS SENT IN AN ENVELOPE.

  • INSERT THE GREETING CARD, WITH THE ILLUSTRATION FACING THE FLAP, SUCH THAT THE CORRESPONDENT DISCOVERS IT AS HE OR SHE OPENS THE ENVELOPE

  • CARDS WITH A FAMILY PHOTO ARE RESERVED FOR FAMILY AND VERY CLOSE FRIENDS

REFRAIN FROM SENDING RELIGIOUSLY THEMED MESSAGES TO NON-BELIEVERS OR TO PEOPLE WHO PRACTICE A RELIGION OTHER THAN YOUR OWN

  • IT IS MOST APPROPRIATE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO PRESENT THEIR BEST WISHES TO OLDER PEOPLE

  • ALWAYS RESPOND TO THOSE WHO SEND YOU BEST WISHES

  • ACCORDING TO FRENCH ETIQUETTE, BEST WISHES MAY BE SENT FROM DECEMBER 15 TO JANUARY 31. HOWEVER, FOR SUPERSTITIOUS REASONS, SOME PEOPLE DO NOT SEND BEST WISHES UNTIL JANUARY 1, WHILE OTHERS THINK THAT TO DO SO AFTER JANUARY 15 IS IMPOLITE! LE SAVOIR-VIVRE THEREFORE ADVISES THAT YOU SEND THEM DURING THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF JANUARY

  • THESE DAYS, IT IS OBVIOUSLY ACCEPTABLE TO SEND BEST WISHES BY E-MAIL AND AS VIRTUAL CARDS, ESPECIALLY BETWEEN PROFESSIONALS

  • WHETHER THEY ARE VIRTUAL OR NOT, DO NOT SEND CARDS THAT ARE IN BAD TASTE

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