Christmas Season Staples: 10 Must-know Holiday Greetings in French
Cher Noël, voici bien longtemps
Tout juste un an
Que je t’attends
(Dear Christmas, here you are after such a long time
It’s been one whole year
That I’ve waited for you)
Do those words express your feelings exactly?
Hey, French kids know where you’re coming from.
They might sing the above poem at Christmas Eve’s messe de minuit (midnight mass) as a chant de Noël (Christmas carol).
As we finish up the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers and start pulling decorations from the attic, many of us share that sense of excitement.
And what better outlet for all that anticipatory energy could there be than learning some new fun French phrases?
This year, you can get into the French Christmas spirit by acquainting yourself with all the lingo and setting out milk and cookies for Père Noël (Santa Claus—here literally translated as Father Christmas).
You can even prepare a meal for Réveillon (the traditional meal before Christmas and New Year’s, often consumed on Christmas Eve).
And of course you’ll want to know how to properly share tidings of comfort and joy in French!
From mingling with new friends, to sharing gifts with family, to searching for the perfect words for your Christmas card, you’ll find your newly-acquired festive French greetings perfect for the holiday season.
Why Learn French Christmas Greetings?
Of course, some traditions are different than others, but what’s the same everywhere is that people enjoy spending time together during the holidays. Knowing French greetings is an added benefit during the holiday season for many reasons.
If you’re living in France, it’ll be a perfect conversation starter and introduction at parties or gatherings during the Christmas season. As you run errands, go out or go walking around town, major Christmas phrases will be used in many interactions, especially in place of “Hello” and “Goodbye.”
Even if you’re not living in France, knowing these greetings will help you engage the Christmas season with your fellow French speakers in your home country or in messages online. A nice “Merry Christmas” is a great touch to an otherwise normal message.
It’ll also be important if you’re writing holiday cards to those same people in French. Knowing at least ten phrases will help you keep some variety in your writing (and will inevitably impress those receiving the cards!).
Getting to know French Christmas phrases might also introduce you to the history and stories behind French Christmas traditions, which will only improve your understanding of French culture. Holiday traditions provide some of the easiest opportunities to understand a culture different from your own, and learning some basic vocabulary to go along with them only helps comprehension.
No matter what your reason for pursuing French Christmas phrases, it’s a great excuse to further your French studies and get into the holiday spirit.
So while you’re preparing for a merry little French Christmas, here are the most festive holiday greetings for you to share with friends and family.
Traditional Tidbits: 10 Festive French Christmas Greetings
1. Joyeux Noël
Priority number one: Learn how to say “Merry Christmas.” Joyeux translates to “joyous,” while Noël is simply the word used for “Christmas.” After you’ve mastered the pronunciation, use it as your number one go-to for Christmas greetings—and as a starter phrase for building even more holiday phrases.
2. Meilleurs vœux
Outside of the holiday season, Meilleurs vœux means “good wishes” or “best wishes.” But at Christmastime, it means “Season’s Greetings,” and is the perfect holiday phrase to encompass all of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday events, from Réveillon to the Fête des Rois (Three Kings’ Day, a celebration in January that rings in the New Year with a cake and crowning of a “King” or a “Queen” within every family).
3. Bonnes et Heureuses Fêtes! / Joyeuses Fêtes
If you get sick of saying Joyeux Noël over and over, you can switch to Bonnes et Heureuses Fêtes! or Joyeuses Fêtes (either one means “Happy Holidays”), which is a good substitute for Meilleurs vœux and a great way to greet someone and catch all the season’s events together, especially if you’re not sure whether they celebrate Christmas or not. This one is great for people who might not celebrate Christmas.
4. Bonne année et bonne santé
Even before Christmas Day has come and gone, Bonne année et bonne santé, which means “Happy New Year and good health” (and which might be our equivalent of “Blessings” in English), is one of the most common holiday greetings. This might be because à votre santé (to your health) is already the phrase used when toasting, so wishing good health during the holiday season is only natural. Either way, it’s a lovely phrase that both observes the happiness of the holiday season and wishes a pleasant and happy New Year.
5. Vœux de Bonheur pour un Joyeux Noël
Here’s an example of when Joyeux Noël is used as only part of the greeting. Vœux de Bonheur pour un Joyeux Noël means “Happy wishes for a Merry Christmas,” and is a more pleasant and also more advanced way to wish someone a Merry Christmas. It’s most often used in holiday cards and messages, so feel free to jazz up your writing with it.
6. Meilleurs Souhaits pour Le Nouvel An
If you’re ready to leave behind the word vœux for a spell, souhaits means the same thing—wishes—and can communicate something very similar. Meilleurs Souhaits pour Le Nouvel An means “Best wishes for the New Year.”
7. Je vous souhaite d’excellentes fêtes, et bonne année ___
Another way to wish someone happy holidays is to tell them you’re doing so. Je vous souhaite (I wish you) will communicate just that.
Je vous souhaite d’excellentes fêtes, et bonne année (I wish you an excellent holiday and a Happy New Year) followed by the (new) year makes for a very kind greeting.
You can also simply say Joyeuses Fêtes et Bonne Année (Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year), which is less of a mouthful and still gets the same idea across.
8. Que l’année ___ vous procure bonheur, santé et prospérité
Sometimes, even though you’ve sent many good wishes and holiday greetings, you’d like to be a little more specific in what kind of happinesses you wish upon someone in the New Year. Here’s a phrase that does just that.
Que l’année ___ vous procure bonheur, santé et prospérité (That the year ___ brings you happiness, health and prosperity) goes beyond the usual Meilleurs vœux and outlines the positivity you’re wishing into someone’s life for the upcoming year. Procurer here means “bring.”
9. Passez un Joyeux Noël en famille
If you’re talking with someone about their plans for the holiday season, and they mention your family, this greeting would be perfectly appropriate.
Passez un Joyeux Noël en famille means “Have/Spend a good Christmas with your family.”
10. Joyeuse Fête des Rois
The Day of Three Kings, or the Épiphanie (Epiphany) on January 6th, celebrates the New Year in a unique way. It’s the celebration of the day the three wise men brought gifts to the Christ child.
French families bake a galette des rois, or a Kings’ Cake, and cook inside of it a “lucky charm,” which is typically a small figurine of a king. The person who finds the charm in their slice of cake is crowned King or Queen.
So set out your stockings and hang up the mistletoe, because it’s time to celebrate!
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année !