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‘Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison’: Our French expression of the week

As Christmas approaches, we look at a phrase that might come in handy if the weather stays mild

We look at a Christmassy expression relating to warm weather Pic: f o g a a s / Shutterstock

Christmas day falls on Sunday of this week, and the festive period brings with it a host of related idioms and expressions. 

The phrase ‘Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison’ (literally: Christmas on the balcony, Easter by the embers) could be useful this year, especially as this week promises to remain fairly mild across France. 

The expression is a proverb suggesting that if the weather is unusually warm at Christmastime, it will be cold at Easter. 

In this way, people who spend Christmas out on the balcony will be back by the fire at Easter. 

The phrase might be said as a warning during a mild winter, or as an explanation for a cold spring.

Read also: Seven French cold weather phrases to see you through winter

There is no obvious idiomatic translation for ‘Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison’, but in English one might simply say: ‘A warm Christmas means a cold Easter’. 

Other Christmas-related expressions include: ‘Être le dindon de la farce’ – literally ‘to be the turkey in the joke’, or to be the fall guy, the butt of the joke or to be taken for a ride – and ‘tirer les marrons du feu’. 

This phrase, which translates to ‘to take the chestnuts out of the fire’, refers to someone who exploits or takes advantage of a situation, or profits from someone else’s hard work. 

It has a negative connotation, suggesting opportunism, and comes from the Jean de La Fontaine fable ‘Le singe et le chat’ (The Monkey and the Cat), in which Bertrand the monkey persuades Raton the cat to draw chestnuts from the fire where they are roasting, promising to share them. 

The cat picks them out one by one, burning its paws, and the monkey eats them all. Raton ends up getting nothing. 

This story is also at the origin of the English expression ‘a cat’s paw’, which describes someone who acts as a dupe, a person used by another to carry out their dirty work. 

Related articles 

Traditional French Christmas food and a very modern bûche de Noël

‘A la Saint-Glinglin’: Our French expression of the week

‘Un temps de Toussaint’: Our French expression of the week

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