The holidays are just around the corner, and if you’re in France (or have a few French friends!) you might want to get ready for some soirée chitchat with some French Christmas vocabulary. These phrases will help you share your Christmas wishes and season’s greetings with everyone you hold dear this December, bringing a French touch to the magic of the season.
French Christmas Vocabulary You Should Know
1. Joyeux Noël
This common expression is how you say Merry Christmas in French. Joyeux Noël à tous !
2. Joyeuses Fêtes
Though Joyeux Noël is very popular, the more inclusive version of Merry Christmas in French is Joyeuses Fêtes, which means, “Happy Holidays.”
3. Père Noël
Father Christmas, Saint-Nicolas, Santa Claus. Whatever you call old Santa, Père Noël is the most common way the French refer to this jolly gift giver. Qu’est-ce que le Père Noël t’a offert pour Noël ?
4. Bonne année
Happy New Year! (Note: always say bonne année and not joyeuse année — the French don’t say that.) Bonne fête is also a generic way to wish someone a happy holiday, and can be used in this context. The broader Bonnes fêtes can be used to include Christmas, the New Year, and any other holidays.
5. Le sapin de Noël
A sapin is an evergreen tree in French, so le sapin de Noël is a Christmas tree. You will be sure to find any Christmas tree in France decked out in Christmas ornaments and other decorations to usher in a Merry Christmas. Les enfants, venez décorer le sapin de Noël.
6. La crèche
When celebrating Christmas in French, this is one word you will come across frequently. This is the French term for a nativity scene. They are quite popular in France throughout the month of December, complete with angel and baby Jesus. La crèche sert à se souvenir de la naissance de Jésus dans la Bible chrétienne.
Christmas isn’t the only major holiday in December. So for all your Jewish friends in France, this is the most common spelling for the French translation of Hanukkah. On allume la menorah tous les jours pendant les huit jours de Hanouka.
8. L’Épiphanie / La Fête des Rois
Epiphany, or The Feast of Kings. The idea of “twelve days of Christmas” comes from Epiphany, which is January 6th, twelve days after Christmas. In the Bible, this is the day that the Three Kings visited the baby Jesus and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But unlike in the U.S., in France it’s an actual holiday that people celebrate (though they don’t get the day off work). Instead, they celebrate the first Sunday after New Year’s with a galette des rois. En France, on célèbre l’Épiphanie le premier dimanche après le jour du nouvel an.
9. La galette de rois
This cake is served for Epiphany, but it comes with a few rules. A fève, or bean (sometimes in the shape of the baby Jesus), is baked inside the tart made of frangipane, or almond paste. Whomever eats the slice with the fève in it is crowned king or queen for the day. L’année dernière, j’ai trouvé la fève dans la galette de rois.
10. La bûche de Noël
A Yule log. This delicious holiday treat is a special kind of yellow sponge cake baked in a log shape and covered in chocolate buttercream icing. Check out our Yule Log/bûche de Noël recommendations here. Je préfère les bûches de Noël que la galette de rois pendant les fêtes.
11. Le vin chaud
Mulled wine. This bracing holiday beverage, which can be found at most Christmas markets, is made from red wine slowly simmered with mostly cinnamon, orange, and sugar. Learn how to make your own here (or see where to find it in NYC here). Tu aimes le vin chaud? Non, c’est trop amer mais ça réchauffe bien.
12. Les cannelés
This holiday dessert, particular to France, is a hearty little cake baked with rum and vanilla into its distinctive shape. The outside is hard and caramelized, but it protects a soft custard center, and is often found at Marchés de Noël.
13. Marchés de Noël
These gorgeous Christmas markets pop up all over France and are a great place to do some gift shopping and snack on seasonal treats. Savez-vous que le marché de noël des Champs Elysées a été déplacé aux Tuileries?
14. Les vitrines de Noël
If you spend Christmas in Paris, don’t miss the gorgeous window displays at department stores like Printemps and Galeries de Lafayette, where they set up special platforms so that children can press their noses to the glass to see the stunning themed creations. Je pense que Printemps Paris Haussmann a les plus belles vitrines en hiver.
15. La patinoire
Ice skating rink. Check out pop-up rinks like the one on La Défense in Paris, with an unparalleled view of the Eiffel Tower. Tu veux faire du patin à glace à la patinoire de la Défense?
16. Le Réveillon de Noël / La Veille de Noël
“Le réveillon” refers to Christmas Eve, but more specifically it refers to the main Christmas meal eaten on Christmas Eve with family and friends. You’re more likely to find chocolate truffles than a candy cane at this type of celebration, and we have a complete guide to this grand repas de Noël. (The term Réveillon can also refer to New Year’s Eve, also called “le réveillon du nouvel an.”)
17. Le chapon
Capon, AKA a rooster (instead of a hen) typically served at a traditional réveillon. If someone doesn’t have a chapon at their réveillon, the meal isn’t ruined, it’s just a non-traditional réveillon.
18. Les cadeaux
These are the presents that Santa leaves on Christmas Day for all the little French children. Quel a été ton cadeau de Noël préféré cette année ?
19. Le Sucre d’Orge
This is what the French would call a candy cane. Tu veux un sucre d’orge?
20. La Messe de Minuit
Midnight Mass. Many French Catholics attend a Christmas mass at midnight going into Christmas Day. That way, they can spend Christmas lounging and opening presents under the Christmas tree after sleeping in.