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Christmas for Children in France

Many nations celebrate Noël (Christmas), and France is no exception. How do French children typically spend Noël? Does Santa visit them and give out toys on le jour de Noël (Christmas Day) too? Let's discuss some of France’s traditions and explore some Christmas-related vocabulary in the process.


Le Père Noël (Father Christmas or Santa Claus) does indeed pay a visit to children in France and French-speaking countries, but he was not always called Père Noël


À l'époque, il ne s'appelle pas encore Père Noël mais Nicolas

At the time, he is not yet called Santa Claus, but Nicholas

Captions 4-5, Le Monde D’où vient le Père Noël ?

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In any case, nowadays, children all know about le Père Noël, to whom they are encouraged to write une lettre (a letter), en français, of course:


Les enfants peuvent écrire leur lettre au Père Noël

The children can write their letter to Santa Claus

Caption 11, LCM "Cher Père Noël..."

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And all the lettres addressed to le Père Noël will end up at le pôle Nord (the North Pole):


La lettre arrivera bien au père Noël. Une lettre tamponnée et postée, destination le pôle Nord.

The letter will reach Santa Claus. A letter stamped and mailed, destination North Pole.

Captions 14-16, LCM "Cher Père Noël..."

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Le Père Noël will, as the story goes, read the letters and fulfill the children’s wishes as long as they've been sages (good). In the following video, a child gives us a candid answer about his behavior:


Oui, des fois je suis sage.

Yes, sometimes I am good.

Caption 18, LCM "Cher Père Noël..."

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If the children have been naughty, they will have to contend with le Père Fouettard (Father Whipper), who distributes coal to bad kids. Fortunately, according to the speaker in the video below, le Père Fouettard will not be present this year, as everybody has been good:


Donc, euh... cette année sans le Père Fouettard parce que tout le monde est sage.

So, uh... this year without Père Fouettard, because everybody is good.

Caption 57, Grand Lille TV Focus: la tradition de Saint-Nicolas

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Since so many children have been sages (good), it's an extremely busy time for le Père Noël, who has many jouets (toys) to deliver. In this cute video, poor Santa complains that he is overworked! Not only does le Père Noël distribute the toys, but he also makes them:


Le Père Noël a bien du mal à finir à temps son travail. Il y a tellement d'enfants sur terre et tellement de jouets à leur faire.

Santa Claus is having a lot of trouble finishing his work on time. There are so many children on earth and so many toys to make for them.

Captions 16-18, Les belles histoires de Pomme d'Api Les Chaussettes du Père Noël

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Le Père Noël might have to carry a large hotte (bag) for all the toys he will need to deliver, but its heaviness should not be of any concern to the little ones:


Si quelques enfants ont encore des craintes concernant la taille de sa hotte, pas de panique.

If some children still have concerns about the size of his bag of toys, no need to panic.

Caption 9, TV Vendée Le sapin de Noël décoré par les enfants

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Then le Père Noël, whose appearance is based on that of Saint Nicholas, is all set with his traîneau (sleigh) pulled by rennes (reindeer), which is filled with cadeaux (presents) to be stuffed into chaussettes (stockings):


Saint-Nicolas ressemble alors à un vieil homme à barbe, un peu gros, qui se promène sur un traîneau tiré par des rennes, et il descend par la cheminée pour fourrer ses cadeaux dans des chaussettes.

Saint Nicholas then looks like an old bearded old man, somewhat fat, who goes around on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, and he goes down the chimney to stuff his gifts into stockings.

Captions 52-55, Le Monde D’où vient le Père Noël ?

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While le Père Noël is getting ready, families are also busy setting up decorations. Of course, the magic of Christmas is not complete without un sapin de Noël (a Christmas tree)! In this small community, le sapin is the centerpiece and pride of the town:


Un peu plus loin, la star, c'est le sapin.

A little further, the star is the Christmas tree.

Caption 14, TV Vendée Le sapin de Noël décoré par les enfants

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An army of children help decorate the town’s sapin with personalized ornaments:


Celui de la place Napoléon à la Roche-sur-Yon est assiégé par une armée d'enfants venus tout simplement le décorer avec des boules personnalisées.

The one on Place Napoléon [Napoleon Square] in La Roche-sur-Yon is besieged by an army of children who came quite simply to decorate it with personalized ornament balls.

Captions 15-16, TV Vendée Le sapin de Noël décoré par les enfants

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Some communities prepare for a more religious Christmas celebration, like this little town in Alsace, which is even planning to set up une crèche vivante (a live nativity scene) in the future:


En été j'aimerais bien faire un pique-nique géant dans la cour,  faire une petite crèche vivante aussi pour Noël...

In the summer I'd really love to do a huge picnic in the courtyard, to do a little live-action nativity scene as well for Christmas...

Captions 32-33, Alsace 20 Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

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In addition, you will often hear French children sing "Petit Papa Noël" (Little Father Christmas), a song recorded in 1946 by French singer Tino Rossi:


Petit Papa Noël / Quand tu descendras du ciel

Little Father Christmas / When you come down from the sky

Captions 1-2, LCM "Cher Père Noël..."

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That’s it for our fêtes de Noël (Christmas festivities)! If you wish to find out more about the wonderful ways French people like to fêter Noël (celebrate Christmas), be sure to explore our Christmas-themed videos


Joyeux Noël! (Merry Christmas!)


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