Ho, ho, ho, Christmas decorations are appearing in the streets of France, people are in a festive mood and Christmas shopping is in full swing.
But how do you say “Merry Christmas” in French? And while we’re in the holiday spirit, how do you say “Happy New Year” or “Happy Hanukkah” in French? How about “Season’s Greetings”?
Let’s find out!
The classic “Merry Christmas”
Joyeux Noël is the most common way to say “Merry Christmas” in French. If you break it down, it literally translates to “Joyful Christmas” – so, Merry or Happy Christmas for fellow Anglophones.
You’ll find this phrase on most cartes de vœux (greeting cards) and can use it with everyone.
The “Happy Hanukkah”
Happy Hanukkah in French is “Joyeux Hanoukka”. But as in English, there can be some spelling variations, so you might also see Joyeux Hanoucca, Joyeux Hanouka, Joyeux Hannukah, and so on.
But before you use this greeting, be very careful of the context. For one thing, as is the case for most Jewish communities around the world, Hanukkah in France is a relatively minor holiday. And there’s also the fact that the French Jewish community tends to be very discreet. So if you aren’t absolutely certain that someone is expecting a Hanukkah greeting or wants to have it known that they celebrate, it’s best to stick with something neutral.
The classic “Happy New Year”
Bonne année is “Happy New Year” in French. This is the most typical way to wish someone a happy New Year and can be used with everyone.
You can add the year to it if you want to be specific: Bonne année 2021 !
The typical New Year’s wish
You may hear a joyful French person greet you with Bonne année, bonne santé. “Happy/Good [New] Year, good health”. This is slightly less formal than simply saying Bonne année but is still okay for most situations and people. It may also come off as a bit cheesy or cliché, depending on the company.
The “Happy Holidays” for everyone
If you aren’t sure which holiday(s) someone celebrates, or if you just want to wish them a collective “Happy Holidays”, Joyeuses fêtes or the slightly less common Bonnes fêtes is the perfect phrase.
The word fête normally means “party” or “celebration”, but when it’s said during the holiday season, it’s understood to mean les fêtes de fin d’année (the end-of-year holidays).
The formal “Happy Holidays”
If you want – or need – to get a little bit more formal with your holiday greetings, you can use the phrase Je vous souhaite d’excellentes fêtes de fin d’année.
Literally “I wish you excellent end of year celebrations”, this greeting can be used at work or with people you don’t know well.
The “Season’s Greetings”
Meilleurs vœux is a true chameleon. While it means “best wishes” for most of the year, it turns into “Season’s Greetings” in December and early January as people celebrate Christmas and the New Year.
You can use it on its own – you’ll often see it like this on greeting cards, for instance. Or it can be part of a sentence. For example:
Meilleurs vœux pour la nouvelle année. (Best wishes for the new year.)
Meilleurs voeux pour l’année 2021. (Best wishes for the year 2021)
A unique French holiday greeting
As in English, these French holiday greetings are perfectly acceptable and usually appreciated – unless you run into a French Scrooge!
But if you want to be a little more original, here are some ways to do that:
• Add Je vous souhaite un très before a typical holiday greeting. This amps it up a little, and makes it a little fancier, too. For instance, Joyeux Noël would go from regular “Merry Christmas” to Je vous souhaite un très joyeux Noël – I wish you a very merry Christmas.
• Use unexpected expressions and adjectives. If you feel confident in your French abilities and vocabulary, you can try to mix things up. For instance, instead of Bonne année, why not say Je vous souhaite une année 2021 magique. (I wish you a magical 2021.).
Keep in mind that in most cases, you’ll have to use a sentence; you can’t just replace a word in a common French holiday phrase. For example, the phrase I just suggested works, but just Magique année (Magical year)would be confusing – just as it would in English.
• Look online for more examples and inspiration.
To start with, this article is a good source of longer and unique holiday phrases in French.
You can find more ideas by typing a traditional French holiday greeting plus the word original (which in this context means “unique”) into a search engine.
Note that some results might be really long -maybe they’re intended for people who need to send out holiday cards. But the corresponding image search should show you brief greeting alternatives.
Voilà, you now know how to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in French – and a few other good options, besides!
Have you ever celebrated Christmas in France? What was it like?