Festive French phrases and words for the Christmas period

Joyeux Noël tout le monde - your vocabulary guide to get you through the festive season

The festive period comes with a whole new set of vocabulary
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The festive season is upon us, meaning it is useful to have some Christmas vocabulary up your sleeve to help you out throughout December.

From wishing your neighbours a happy holiday to talking to your children about Santa Claus, there are a few phrases that will come up again and again.

Here are some to look out for…

Joyeux Noël - Happy Christmas

Joyeuses Fêtes - Happy Holidays

Meilleurs vœux - Season’s Greetings

Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année - Season’s Greetings/Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Le Réveillon de Noël / La Veille de Noël - Christmas eve

Le réveillon can also refer to the celebrations on New Year’s eve, which might be called le réveillon du Nouvel An or le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.

It signifies a big celebration feast eaten with family and friends.

Réveillonner is also a verb used to talk about celebrating New Year’s Eve or Christmas eve.

The verb comes from veiller which means to keep vigil or to stay awake, and comes from the old tradition of going to midnight mass (mess de minuit) and then going home to celebrate with a big feast.

Père Fouettard - Saint Nicolas’ ‘badman’ / the boogeyman

Read more: What is Saint Nicholas Day celebrated in France on December 6?

Père Noël / Papa Noël - Father Christmas

Offrir un cadeau - to give a present

Le gui - mistletoe

In France, s’embrasser sous le gui (kissing under the mistletoe) is more closely associated with New Year’s Eve.

Le houx - holly

Une crèche - a Nativity scene

Un bibelot - an ornament/bauble

more specifically: une boule (bauble), une étoile (star), une guirlande (tinsel garland), une guirlande électrique/lumineuse (fairy lights), une couronne de Noël (Christmas wreath)

L’avent - advent

Un calendrier de l’Avent = an Advent calendar

Un noël / un chant de Noël - a carol

Le sapin de Noël - Christmas tree

Le jour de l’an - New Year’s Day

Noël au balcon, Pâques au Tison - Christmas on the porch, Easter by the fire

This phrase is used to signify that if Christmas is unseasonably warm, the following Easter will be cold.

On chante tant Noel qu’il vient - We sing so much about Christmas that it’s arrived

This is a good phrase when talking about how early the Christmas celebrations begin. For example, if you see Christmas adverts or shop displays ridiculously early, you can use this old proverb.

La Saint-Sylvestre - New Year’s Eve

Un renne - reindeer

Un bonhomme en pain d'épices - a gingerbread man

La hotte du père Noël - Santa’s sack

Crackers de Noël / Pétard de Noël / papillote surprise de Noël - Christmas crackers

Christmas crackers, although a tradition in the UK, are not typical in France so people may seem surprised if you ask about them.

Un bas/une chaussette - a stocking

Un santon - a traditional French nativity figurine made in Provence

Les Rois mages - Wise men

Un berger - a shepherd

Finir les restes - to eat the leftovers

Un Noël sous la neige - A white Christmas

If you are going skiing for Christmas this year you are hopefully guaranteed un Noël sous la neige.

Vive le vent - Jingle bells

Tes proches - your loved ones

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