French Language Blog

French Christmas – To fill your shoes Posted by on Dec 22, 2020 in Culture, Language, Vocabulary

Despite the current pandemic, people around the world are preparing to celebrate Noël. For many enfants1children in France, that preparation includes leaving une chaussure ou une paire de souliers au peid du sapin2a shoe or pair of shoes beneath (lit. at the foot of) the Christmas tree on Christmas eve.

Chaussures, bottes, ou chaussettes …

The custom of leaving shoes, boots, or stockings/socks beneath the Christmas tree (or by the fire) goes back to a legend of Saint Nicolas giving des pièces de monnaie3coins (or in some stories trois bourses d’or4three pouches filled with gold) to save three pour girls from being sold off by their father (to prevent them from dying of hunger!).

Aujourd’hui5Today instead of money (or gold!), Le Père Noël6Santa Claus, Saint Nicolas (lit. Father Christmas) will traditionally leave a piece of fruit (une pomme, une orange, quelques clementines7an apple, an orange, some clementines) or candy (des bonbons) for children.

To fill your chaussettes de Noël this year, I’ve assembled a few treats of my own.

First a peek at some seasonally-relevant vocabulary!

I was this old when I realized that a manger wasn’t a stable! The English word manger comes from the same roots as the French word mangeoire … which is not the stable in which Mary and Joseph took refuge in the story of the birth of Christ, but the feeding trough that the parents laid their new born son in as the closest thing to a crib they could find in l’étable8the stable.
There are a number of ways in French to say give a gift. I find a number of them much more poetic than the basic donner un cadeau. On peut faire un cadeau ou offrir un cadeau … make a gift or offer a gift. I love the implied idea in making a gift to someone or offering it … especially since in French the idea of offering comes with the implication that you hope the person will accept it … like the difference between donner and partager.
And now on with les cadeaux!

Vaux in lights

One of my favorite chateaux in France is Vaux-le-Vicomte. Designed by the same artisans who would go on to create Versailles, it is a perfect jewel box of a chateau … as you can see in this video highlighting the son et lumière being put on in, around, and on the chateau this year.

Paris qui brille … 

Les Grands Magasins and the Champs-Elysées aren’t the only parts of Paris to get their holiday best on. As you might expect in the Ville lumière, sites around the city decorate and deploy special lighting for the fêtes de fin d’année. La place de la Concorde, la place de la Bastille, et le parvis de l’Hôtel de Ville are all dressed up in their holiday finest. Click each link and scroll down to explore pictures of each site as part of the program Paris scintille9Paris sparkles, glitters.

Des contes de Noël … 

L’Assemblée nationale du Québec vous invite à découvrir l’histoire des araignées de Noël.10The National Assembly of Quebec invites you to discover the story of the Christmas spiders.

Et pour finir … 

And to finish, it might not be Christmas, but this lovely video features some of my favorite sites around Paris in a unique and inspiring fashion.

Joyeux Noël …

A tous ceux qui le fêtent, je souhaite un très joyeux Noël! To all who celebrate, I wish a very Merry Christmas!

Want to learn more? Here are some previous Transparent Language French Blog posts about Christmas in France!
La bûche de Noël and les crèches
Le Réveillon
Les santons
And if you’ve never done it before, you can find our holiday word search and lots of great French Christmas vocabulary here.

Photo by Oleg Zaicev from Pexels

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    a shoe or pair of shoes beneath (lit. at the foot of) the Christmas tree
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  • 4
    three pouches filled with gold
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  • 6
    Santa Claus, Saint Nicolas (lit. Father Christmas)
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    an apple, an orange, some clementines
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  • 9
    Paris sparkles, glitters
  • 10
    The National Assembly of Quebec invites you to discover the story of the Christmas spiders.
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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.