French Christmas Words

Instructor: Sarah Cobarrubias
Santa Claus is the world's most appreciated delivery man. But the French don't call him 'Santa,' and other Christmas words are much different in French. In this lesson, we'll explore French Christmas vocab you'll need during the holidays.

Christmas in France

One thing France, and especially Paris, is good at is decorating for Christmas. Thanks to the Christmas lights, the decked out shopping centers, like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps along Boulevard Haussmann, and the city's gorgeous animated window displays, the City of Lights becomes a winter wonderland.

But if you wander around the streets of France asking for Santa, you might be disappointed. In France, Santa is called Père Noël (pronounced Peh-r No-eh-l), literally 'Father Christmas.' As you may have guessed, the word for 'Christmas' is Noël, and it's named after the Saint who is celebrated on December 25.

Back before Père Noël became the symbol of Christmas, the French celebrated Saint Nicolas. He was not quite as charming nor as generous as Père Noël, but he was celebrated every year on December 6 with a huge feast. This holiday, Saint Nicolas Day, is still celebrated in France.

Now you know Santa's French name and origins, but what about gifts? And Christmas trees? And everything else that makes Christmas so magical? Let's learn more about Christmas in France.

Before Christmas

Père Noël, as every parent knows, needs a little bit of help with buying and wrapping gifts. Here are French vocab words you'll need to know to talk about Christmas preparations:

  • Un cadeau (pronounced ka-do): gift (or des cadeaux for 'gifts')
  • Du papier cadeau (pronounced pa-pi-ay ka-do): wrapping paper. (The French took it easy for this one--it means, literally, 'paper for gifts.')

You might also want to décorer (pronounced day-ko-ray), or decorate, your sapin de Noël (Christmas tree). Christmas decoration words include:

  • Décorations de Noël: Christmas ornaments
  • Boules de Noël: Christmas baulbes
  • Guirlandes (pronounced gir-lon-d) de Noël: Christmas tinsels
  • Guirlandes lumineuses: Christmas lights

Sapin de Noël

If you want to talk about decorating your apartment for Christmas, you'll need to know these words:

  • Couronne (pronounced kou-ro-n) de Noël: Christmas wreath
  • Cloches de Noël: Christmas bells
  • Houx (pronounced oo): holly
  • Chaussette (pronounced cho-seh-t) de Noël: Christmas stocking

Christmas Eve

Unlike North Americans, the French open their presents on December 24 after a big, long Christmas Eve dinner, called Réveillon (pronounced ray-veh-yan). They very seldom eat dinde (pronounced dan-d), which is turkey, but they do drink a lot of champagne and eat a lot of bûche de Noël, a traditional French dessert that Americans know as Yule log.

On Christmas Eve, Santa needs a few things to make sure he can do his job properly:

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