If you've been wondering how to wish someone a Merry Christmas or Happy Easter, then it's time to brush up on your French holiday sayings. In addition to holidays like Easter and Christmas that are celebrated here, there are other French holidays each with their own unique set of vocabulary.
French Holiday Sayings and Vocabulary
If you're in France during a holiday, it would be certainly helpful to understand various French holiday sayings related to that holiday. The French like to celebrate and in some cases, you're likely to see phrases and vocab plastered around for months at a time.
Le Jour de l'An
Wishing someone a Happy New Year is as simple as saying "Bonne Année." The French start celebrating New Year's on la Saint-Sylvestre. . .which is New Year's Eve. (Note: Even though St. Sylvestre was a male, the holiday is la Saint-Sylvestre because it's short for la fête de St. Sylvestre. The French typically celebrate with a big dinner called le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre and at midnight you might catch someone kissing under le gui (mistletoe). On le jour de l'an you might spend some time writing down une bonne résolution de nouvel an.
Mardi Gras is similar in France as it is in the United States. Mardi Gras literally means "Fat Tuesday" and is celebrated 46 days before Pâques (Easter). Mardi Gras is the day before le carême (Lent). It is a time of celebration and while you won't hear anyone wishing you a "Happy Mardi Gras", you might hear: Laissez les bons temps rouler, which literally means, "Let the good times roll." While Mardi Gras celebrations take place all over France, it is Québec that is very well known for its "carnaval" in the French speaking world.
Valentine's Day is simply referred to as la saint-valentin and is celebrated similar to how it is celebrated in the United States. You might wish someone a Joyeuse Saint Valentin, or simply express your love with a romantic French phrase.
Le Noël (Christmas)
Le Noël is celebrated beginning with le Réveillon--Christmas Eve mass. Most children will put out their shoes in front of the fireplace in hopes that they will get a visit from Papa Noël, the French equivalent of Santa Claus. Children in some regions may hope that they don't get a visit from Père Fouettard who gives out spankings to bad children. To wish someone a Merry Christmas you would say Joyeux Noël.
La Fête Nationale
Joyeux Quatorze Juillet--This is the correct way to wish someone a Happy Bastille Day as opposed to saying "Bonne Bastille." Although the French celebrate what is referred to as "La Fête", it is very unusual to wish someone a Happy Bastille Day in the same way you'd wish someone a Happy July 4th.
If you want to wish someone a "Happy Birthday", you would say either Joyeux Anniversaire or Bon anniversaire. While both expressions are equally correct, "bon anniversaire" is probably more common in spoken language and among good friends.
La Fête de l'Action de Grâce
Bonne Fête de l'Action de Grâce is a standard way to wish someone a Happy Thanksgiving. However, Thanksgiving is not a French holiday and is not widely celebrated in France. With that said, there are enough Americans and Canadians living in France that it's not entirely unknown to the French either. While you wouldn't go around wishing your French buddies a Happy Thanksgiving, they might wish you one out of courtesy.
Other Sayings for Celebrations
- Félicitations--Whether it's a big promotion or a wedding day, this is how you say "congratulations".
- Joyeuse Saint-Valentin--Happy Valentine's Day
- Bonne Fête Maman--Happy Mother's Day
- Joyeuses Pâques--Happy Easter
- Bonne fête de Hanoukka--Happy Hannukah
- Joyeuses fêtes--Happy Holidays
- Mes/Nos meilleurs voeux--Best Wishes
- À votre santé--Literally translated, this means "To Your Health", but is a general way of saying, "Good luck", or "Cheers".