SING ALONG: French Christmas classic carols

Wondering what your French neighbours are singing? Check out these translations and sing along to the French version of Jingle Bells, Silent Night, and more

A view of a group of people singing Christmas carols
Join in with these French carols this year as you celebrate Christmas!
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‘Tis the season for singing carols - and if you live in France or are spending Christmas here, you may want to join in with your neighbours on the top tunes. We’re here to help…

Jingle Bells (Vive le Vent)

The classic sleigh-riding song is one of the well-known carols in English that has an ‘equivalent’ in French, where the same tune takes on different lyrics.

Instead of a rollicking sleigh ride, the French version describes an older man who goes out in the snow, and sings about the winter wind that reminds him of playing among the fir trees when he was a child.

The first verse is: Sur le long chemin, Tout blanc de neige blanche, Un vieux monsieur s´avance, Avec sa canne dans la main, Et tout là-haut le vent, Qui siffle dans les branches, Lui souffle la romance, Qu´il chantait petit enfant…

Chorus: Vive le vent, vive le vent, Vive le vent d'hiver, Qui s'en va sifflant, soufflant, Dans les grands sapins verts...Oh! Vive le temps, vive le temps, Vive le temps d´hiver, Boule de neige et jour de l´an, Et bonne année grand-mère!

The translation is: On the long path, All covered in white snow, An old man walks forwards, With his cane in his hand, And up high the wind, which is blowing in the branches, breathes to him a romantic feeling, [and a song] he used to sing as a child…

Long live the wind, long live the wind, long live the winter wind, which whistles and blows in the big pine trees…Oh! Long live the weather, long live the weather, long live the winter weather. Snow balls and New Year’s Day, and Happy Christmas Grandma!

Little Santa Claus in French (Petit Papa Noël)

This tune takes us away from winter wind and back to Father Christmas (or Santa Claus). It conjures up the magic of the night before Christmas as small children go to sleep dreaming and hoping about what Father Christmas will bring on his sleigh.

It also references the ‘petit soulier’ (little shoe) that children in France typically leave for Father Christmas to fill (instead of the stockings used in the UK and US).

And, while the song is mainly focused on presents, it also has a touch of sweetness. It finds time to remind Father Christmas to wrap up warm as he makes his deliveries so he is not too cold, and asks forgiveness for the times when the child was perhaps not always so well behaved.

The first verse is: C'est la belle nuit de Noël, La neige étend son manteau blanc, Et les yeux levés vers le ciel, À genoux, les petits enfants, Avant de fermer les paupières, Font une dernière prière.

Chorus: Petit papa Noël, Quand tu descendras du ciel, Avec des jouets par milliers, N'oublie pas mon petit soulier. Mais avant de partir, Il faudra bien te couvrir, Dehors tu vas avoir si froid, C'est un peu à cause de moi.

The translation is: It’s the beautiful Christmas night (Eve), snow is spreading its white coat, and with their eyes towards the heavens, small children kneel, and before they close their eyes, they make a final prayer (request).

Little Father Christmas, when you come down from the sky, with toys in their thousands, don’t forget my little shoe. But before you go, you must wrap up warm, outside you will be so cold, [and] it’s a bit because of me.

O Christmas Tree in French (Mon beau sapin)

No traditional Christmas is complete without a fir tree, and this carol extols the beauty and virtue of these majestic plants, which remain green even in the cold of winter.

But while both songs have the same theme and tune in English and French, Mon Beau Sapin is perhaps more commonly sung in France than its equivalent in England.

The song begins with its ‘chorus’ and then heads into a short verse about how other trees lose their leaves, but not the Christmas tree. Subsequent verses explain how Christmas trees spread light in people’s homes, and are a beautiful symbol of peace.

Chorus: Mon beau sapin, roi des forêts, Que j'aime ta verdure.

Verse: Quand par l'hiver, bois et guérets, Sont dépouillés de leurs attraits.

Chorus: Mon beau sapin, roi des forêts, Tu gardes ta parure.

The translation is: My beautiful fir, king of the forests, how I love your greenery. When in winter, woods and meadows are stripped of their charms, My beautiful fir tree, king of the forests, You keep your finery.

The English lyrics are strikingly similar, including: O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, How lovely are thy branches, Your boughs, so green in Summer-time, Stay bravely green in Winter-time. O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, How lovely are thy branches.

Silent Night (Douce Nuit)

Another well-known classic with the same theme and tune in both languages, this sweet carol talks about the calm night when everyone gathers around the Virgin Mary and her newborn baby.

And, unlike most other carols, the French and English lyrics of this one work almost as an exact translation of each other.

First chorus and verse: Douce nuit, sainte nuit, Tout est calme et lumineux, Autour de la vierge mère et de l'enfant, Saint infantile si tendre et si doux, Dors dans une paix céleste, Dors dans une paix céleste.

The translation is: Sweet night, holy night, All is calm and bright, Around the virgin mother and the child, Holy infant so tender and sweet, Sleep in a heavenly peace, Sleep in a heavenly peace.

The original English lyrics are the same, but more old-fashioned: Silent night, holy night, All is calm and all is bright, Round yon virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.

Happy carolling and Happy Christmas one and all!

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