French Vocabulary and Conversations: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa


Last Updated: August 29, 2022

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December is a time of celebration for a number of different cultures and religions around the world. This article will provide brief information and vocabulary about Christmas, Hanukkah, as well as Kwanzaa. It will also include realistic dialogues about these festivities.

French Vocab and Conversations

Christmas (Noël)

Perhaps the most widely celebrated holiday is Christmas. Christmas Day (le jour de Noël) is celebrated every year on December 25th.

While Christmas Day is widely celebrated in France, for many families Christmas Eve (la veille de Noël) is the pinnacle of the celebration.

Much like the rest of the world, the French put up their Christmas trees (le sapin de Noël) and Christmas stockings (le bas de Noël) in anticipation of Santa Clause (Père Noël) and his gifts (les cadeaux de Noël).

Many families will attend a midnight mass (la messe de minuit) at their local church, before going home to enjoy a Christmas feast (le Réveillon de Noël). Many people also celebrate Boxing Day (le lendemain de Noël).

Most families also decorate their homes with numerous decorations (les décorations) including:

DecorationsLes Décorations
CandleLa bougie
HollyLe houx
LightsLes lumières
WreathLa couronne
MistletoeLe gui
BellLa cloche
Nativity SceneLa crèche

If you ever happen to be in France during the festive season, be sure to wish everyone a Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) or Meilleurs vœux! (Season's Greetings!).

Sample French Dialogue: Christmas

Anne: « Qu’est-ce que ta famille va faire pendant les vacances en Décembre ? »

What will your family be doing during the holidays this December ?

Sarah: « On va rester chez nous pour célébrer la fête de Hanoucca. Ma mère est juive et on l’observe chaque année. Et toi ? »

We’re going to stay at home to celebrate Hanukkah. My mother is Jewish and we observe it every year. How about you ?

Anne: « Juste les traditions de Noël normales – comme d’habitude. On va rester chez nous pendant tout Décembre et célébrer avec nos familles. On célèbre Noël le 24 Décembre avec le réveillon et la messe de minuit, et le 25  Décembre – le jour de Noël. On célèbre aussi le lendemain de Noël. »

Just the normal Christmas traditions – as usual. We’re going to stay home all December and celebrate with our family. We celebrate Christmas on December 24th with a feast and a midnight mass, and we celebrate December 25th – Christmas Day. We also celebrate             Boxing Day.

While Christmas is a well-known and widely celebrated holiday in December, it is by no means the only holiday being celebrated at that time of the year.

Hanukkah (Hanoucca)

Hanukkah is celebrated by the people of the Jewish faith – Judaism (Le Judaïsme). Unlike Christmas, the date it’s celebrated changes each year, but it usually takes place between the end of November and the end of December.

The dates vary as Hanukkah follows the Hebrew calendar (le calendrier hébraïque) – it officially begins on the 25th of Kislev, the ninth month of the Jewish calendar. Hanukkah is celebrated over eight days. 

Hanukkah is celebrated on each of the eight nights, by the lighting of a candle (allumer des bougies). The candles are held by a special candelabra (un chandelier) called la hanoukia.

The ninth candle on the candelabra is used to light the other candles. Traditionally, the candles are lit from left to right and as they are lit, a prayer (une prière) is said.

Hanukkah is also a time for the giving of gifts. Gifts are often given and received on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Traditionally, children receive money (l’argent) and a dreidel (une toupie). Hanukkah ends with a traditional meal shared with family members.

Be sure to wish people a Joyeux Hanoucca! (Happy Hanukkah!) during Hanukkah.

Sample French Dialogue: Hanukkah

Anne: « Comment ta famille célèbre la fête de Hanoucca ? »

How does your family celebrate Hanukkah?

Sarah: « Ma famille échange des cadeaux. Traditionnellement, les enfants juifs reçoivent un peu d’argent et une toupie. Chaque nuit de la fête, on allume une bougie sur la hanoukia.  »

My family exchanges gifts. Traditionally, Jewish children receive some money and a dreidel.
Each night of the holiday, we light a candle on the candelabra.

Anne: « Est-ce que tu célèbres la fête de Hanoucca avec un grand repas ? »

Do you celebrate Hanukkah with a big meal?

Sarah« Bien sûr ! C’est la meilleure partie de Hanoucca ! »

Of course! It’s the best part of Hanukkah!

Kwanzaa (La fête Afro-américaine)

Another, perhaps lesser known celebration that is held at the end of the year is Kwanzaa (la fête Afro-américaine).

It’s held from December 26th to January 1st. It’s a celebration of African culture, heritage, identity and community from around the world. It's particularly popular in the United States.

The festivities are based on Seven Principles (les sept principes de Kwanzaa), with each day of the week dedicated to a specific principle.

Kwanzaa is celebrated by exchanging gifts and enjoying a delicious meal with loved ones. People decorate their homes with fruits (les fruits) and a black, red and green flag (un drapeau noir, rouge et vert). 

A Kinara or candle holder (un chandelier) that holds seven candles – three red candles on the left, one black candle in the center and three green candles on the right, is lit each day of the festival, much like the Hanukkah tradition.

You can wish people a Happy Kwanzaa with the phrase – Joyeux Kwanzaa!

Sample French Dialogue: Kwanzaa

Jamel« Est-ce que vous allez célébrer Kwanzaa cette année ? »

Are you going to celebrate Kwanzaa this year ?

Mari « Oui, ma famille célèbre toujours cette fête. »

Yes, my family always celebrates this holiday.

Jean « Qu’est-ce que c’est Kwanzaa ? »

What is Kwanzaa?

Jamel « C’est une fête Afro-américaine, qui célèbre la culture, la communauté et le patrimoine de               l’Afrique. C’est particulièrement populaire aux États-Unis. »

It’s an African-American holiday that celebrates the culture, community and heritage of Africa. It’s particularly popular in the United States.

Jean « Vraiment ? Comment célèbres-tu ? »

Really? How do you celebrate?

Mari « Avec des cadeaux, un grand repas et nos familles – bien sûr ! »

With gifts, a big meal and our family – of course!

December is the time of year for celebrations of all kinds, no matter your religion or culture. I encourage you to take the time to learn about other holidays celebrated by different cultures, religions or countries. 

What about you? What holidays does your family celebrate? Do you celebrate more than one holiday in December? Have you experienced any of these holidays in France? Let us know in the comments!

About the author 

Melanie is Australian. She loves to travel and is a language enthusiast.
She has a long-standing love affair with the French language and culture.

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