40 Essential French Christmas Words to Put You in a Festive Mood

As Christmastime comes near, you may find yourself wondering how to talk about this holiday in French. So, here’s a little gift from us to you: French Christmas vocabulary!

French Christmas ambiance and traditions

Note that French people don’t tend to send as many Christmas cards as people in some other countries (like the US) do. This includes family photo Christmas cards, which are a novelty in France.

Food is probably the most important and obvious way the French celebrate Christmas. Carols aren’t a huge thing, gifts are important but the French tend to be less materialistic, décor tends not to be over-the-top. But food-related commercials and even news segments abound at Christmastime in France. The most common gift to exchange with acquaintances, teachers, etc., is chocolates. So, the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals are a BIG DEAL. You can read more about this in our article on French Christmas traditions.

There are a few famous French Christmas carols but the French aren’t as big on carols as many other countries/cultures are. You’ll often simply hear famous English-language carols playing over the radio in French shops.

Note that the title of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic A Christmas Carol  is sometimes translated as Un Chant de Noël but is also known by the titles Cantique de Noël, Chanson de Noël or Conte de Noël.  

Candy canes aren’t traditionally French and it can be almost impossible to find them here, but due to globalization, they’re an easily recognized Christmas symbol in France.

French Santa Claus words

A painted porcelaine or ceramic figurine of Santa in his sleigh, his big sack of gifts on the seat behind him, open to reveal a few wrapped presents

In some regions of France, this day is celebrated with traditions including someone dressed as Saint Nicholas (sometimes accompanied by a donkey) giving out treats.

  • Le Père Fouettard – Father Whipper. This usually black-clad figure accompanies Santa (especially on Saint Nicholas Day) to whip or give coal to children who have been bad.

Although you might learn about le Père Fouettard in French class, he’s not as commonly known among French children as he once was, due to a more global influence of the Santa story. But he is still a part of Saint Nicholas Day celebrations in some regions. And it’s still probably a good idea not to be naughty around Christmas time!

Religious Christmas words in French

A group of carved wooden manger figurines, including a standing Joseph holding his heart, a kneeling Mary holding and looking lovingly at a swaddled baby Jesus in her arms, a praying angel, and one of the Wise Men, wearing a turban and offering a box as his gift. There are also two carved lambs in the foreground. These figurines are modern and minimalistic, with no facial features, but their gestures capture their emotions perfectly.

However and wherever you’re celebrating Christmas this year, I hope it will be a merry one. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you enjoy the holiday season.

Joyeux Noël et Meilleurs vœux (Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings)!

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.