Christmas For Members

Vive le vent: The French phrases you need at Christmas time

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Vive le vent: The French phrases you need at Christmas time
Photo by Mark Makela / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

If you're in France for the festive season then there are few words, phrases and expressions that will come in handy. Joyeux Noël is a decent start, but here are some thoughts on where to go from there.


Getting through the holidays in a country far from home can be tricky - especially if you're not yet fluent in the language. Here's a quick guide to handy French phrases you can use in every festive situation.

Nedelag Laouen, Bon Natale, Bon Nouvè, E güeti Wïnâchte, and Zorionak 

So you’ve figured out how to say Joyeux Noël? Great, but to really impress, try saying it it in some of France’s regional dialects. The above examples are Breton, Corsican, Provencal, Alsatian and Basque.

If you want to wish someone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year you can also say Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année or just Bonne fêtes for Happy Christmas.


Cantiques and Chants profanes

These are the two kinds of chansons you’ll be hearing everywhere everywhere over the festive season, but what’s the difference? Well, a cantique is a religious carol, sung in churches, whereas les chants profanes are more modern and have less to do with the traditional Christian Nativity story.

Joyeux Nono

Roughly equivalent to wishing someone a ‘merry Crimbo’ in the English-speaking world, this slang greeting might help you feel more French.

Vive le vent - Long live the wind

After battling through France’s less-than-pleasant winter weather, you may feel that cursing the wind is more appropriate than singing its praises. But these are the lyrics to the chorus of a classic French holiday song, sung to the tune of Jingle Bells, so get practising.

Qu’est-ce que le père Noël t’a apporté? - What did Father Christmas bring you?

This phrase could prove useful if you’ll be spending time around children this festive season. Lack of French skills will not be accepted as an excuse for forgetting to keep up the Father Christmas myth.

Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison - Christmas on the balcony, Easter around the fire

This is a traditional saying that means that a warm Christmas will bring a cold spring. Reeling off a few old proverbs like this is a good way to fill any awkward silences at big family meals and move conversation back to the safer territory of the weather, although we're not sure how accurate this saying is as a forecasting device in the days of climate change. 

Noël sous la neige - White Christmas

Will you actually have a chance to use this phrase? Unless you’re spending Christmas in the Alps, it’s more likely that you’ll be having a mild, cloudy and wet Christmas this year, according to Météo France


In French we simply talk about a 'snowy' Christmas rather than a white Christmas - describing something as blanc/blanche usually means that the thing is cancelled or didn't happen - eg 2021 was 'une saison blanche' for the ski industry because of pandemic restrictions.

Le Réveillon

This is the name for both the main Christmas meal, which traditionally takes place late on December 24th , and for the dinner on New Year’s Eve.

It comes from the verb ‘veiller’ – ‘to stay awake’ or ‘to keep vigil’ - and come from the old practice of going to Midnight Mass and then coming back to eat the traditional seafood banquet. These days, many families prefer to eat at a more normal time, but the name has stuck.

In Brittany, legend says that the dead come back to the houses they once lived in and join the current occupants at the table at midnight, just for the amount of time it takes for the clock to strike twelve…


Finir les restes - To eat the leftovers

What you’ll almost certainly be doing the day after Le Reveillon.

Je me régale, c’est vraiment génial/sensationnel//intéressant - I love it, it’s really great/stunning/interesting

Whether you genuinely want to express your gratitude for a thoughtful gift, or need to fake it when you receive a jumper of questionable taste from in-laws, these words should do the trick. Even better, using the reflexive verb ‘se régaler’ sounds much more sophisticated than boring old ‘j’aime’.

La Grande Vadrouille - The Great Stroll

You’re likely to hear these words a lot over the festive season because it’s the title of a comedy film often shown on French TV over Christmas. First released in 1966 and set during the time of Nazi occupation in France, it tells the story of two Frenchmen who help the crew of an RAF bomber escape through France after their plane is shot down.

Santé/À la tienne/Tchin-tchin - Cheers

At Christmas, you’re likely to be indulging in French wines more than ever, so make sure you’ve brushed up on the various ways of saying ‘cheers’. And on the subject of toasting traditions in France, always maintain eye contact and make sure you don’t cross your glass with anyone else’s - if you do, it means you’ll suffer from seven years of bad sex or bad luck, depending who you ask.

On chante tant Noël qu'il vient - We sing about Christmas so much that it has arrived

Here’s a French proverb which will help you sound wise, even if you’re actually still struggling with the language. Casually insert it into the conversation whenever someone mentions how early Christmas adverts or decorations came out this year, and you’re sure to get heads nodding in agreement.


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