Santa Claus is called Père Noël in French or Father Christmas. Small children may also call him Papa Noël or Daddy Christmas. He looks more or less like the Santa Claus from the American Coca-Cola ads, but there are a few subtle differences in his costume and practices that make him French.
1. Rather than the red Santa hat, Père Noël wears a red cloak with a hood trimmed in white fur. He often wears the hood up and so it’s a small difference that you can easily not be noticed.
2.. Children do not wake-up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Traditionally, le Père Noël brings toys to good little boys and girls after evening Mass on Christmas Eve.
3. Children do not leave Santa Claus milk and cookies. French adults rarely drink milk and will usually laugh at the idea of a leaving a glass of milk for a grown man, even if he is Santa. At the very least, they’ll joke leave the guy a glass of Calvados or a wine.
4. Children do not hang stockings, but rather leave their shoes and slippers by the fireplace. If they have been good, Père Noël will leave treats in their shoes or slippers. Nowadays, he often also leaves piles of presents under the tree.
5. The Père Noël does not leave coal for naughty children. Instead children behave around the holidays out of fear of Le Père Fouettard, who follows Father Christmas, and as his name implies whips and beats badly behaved children. Getting nothing but coal doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
To help you prepare for the holiday, here are a few other useful words in French:
Christmas = Noël
Christmas carol = un chant de Noël
Christmas Day = le jour de Noël
Christmas Eve = la veille de Noël;
Christmas present = un cadeau de Noël;
Christmas tree = le sapin de Noël, l’arbre de Noël
Merry Christmas! = Joyeux Noël !
Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année from French As You Like It, your French language school in Paris!