Joyeux Noël: Talking about Christmas in France

Joyeux Noël

Soon it will be Christmas in France, Noël en France. In this post we’ll look at some vocabulary and customs that will help you wish your family and friends un joyeux noël, a Merry Christmas.

With the arrival of the holidays, l’excitation monte (excitement rises) as everybody looks forward to fêter Noël en famille (celebrating Christmas with their family), partager des souvenirs (sharing memories) and passer de bons moments ensemble (spending good times together). This is THE time of the year when French people will eat the most at dinner. They stretch le festin (the feast) for hours, with les mets les plus succulents (the most succulent foods).

Les préparations et les décorations

First, there are les préparations (the preparations): Faire du shopping (going shopping) to buy everything for le Réveillon de Noël (Christmas Eve dinner). And of course les cadeaux (the presents), which need to be emballés dans de jolis petits paquets (wrapped in pretty little packages). If you’re doing some Christmas shopping at a store in France, you can ask a clerk to do the wrapping by saying: “C’est pour offrir” (lit. It’s to offer).

Also important are les décorations (the decorations/ornaments) in the house. Of course there’s le sapin de Noël (the Christmas tree), and les guirlandes (garlands), les boules de Noël (Christmas tree ornaments), des étoiles (stars), and des figurines (figurines).

Des batailles et des bonhommes de neige

During this time of the year, if there is de la neige (some snow), you might start des batailles de boules (f.) de neige (snowball fights/battles), or make des bonhommes (m.) de neige (snowmen).

Des amuses-bouche

Before the dinner proper, people stand in le salon (the living room) or by la cheminée (the fireplace). Des amuses-gueule/bouche (appetizers, lit. things that amuse the face/mouth) are passed around, as someone sabre le champagne (opens the Champagne with a sabre). When everybody has a filled glass, on trinque (one toasts) by wishing one another ‘Santé !(“Cheers”, lit. “Health”). Just be sure to look the person dans les yeux (in the eyes) as you toast.

An hour or so later, tout le monde passe à table (everybody sits down at the table). A series of entrées (appetizers) follows: huîtres fraîches et cuites (raw & cooked oysters), saumon fumé (smoked salmon), and foie gras. These are typically served with du vin blanc (some white wine).

La pièce de résistance

After a break comes la pièce de résistance (the centerpiece of the meal), traditionally la viande rôtie (the roasted meat). It can be une dinde aux marrons (a chestnut-stuff turkey), une pintade (a guineafowl), un chapon (a capon, a castrated rooster), un agneau (a lamb), un chevreuil (a roe deer). Such meats are of course accompanied with good red wines, des bons vins rouges.

After another pause, a green salad and a plate of fromages (cheeses) is served with – according to tradition – at least three different milk types: vache (cow), chêvre (goat), and brebis (sheep).

Finally, the traditional dessert arrives, la bûche de Noël (the Christmas log). A buttercream cake in the shape of a log, this highly traditional dessert is decorated with pretty Christmas figurines, then cut into individual slices.

The following morning, tout le monde (everybody) opens his or her cadeaux de Noël, Christmas presents. It’s a joy to montrer (show) and essayer (try) the new gifts!

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Photo: Paris-Galeries Lafayettes-Sapin de noel on Wikimedia Commons.

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