Noël- Franco-American music and Christmas traditions

This is the season to enjoy Christmas music concerts, when Franco-Americans enjoy singing the Chansons de Noël (Christmas songs) and especially Cantiques de Noël (religious Christmas carols).


Decorative candles are among my Noël collection of French Christmas decorations.

Christmas is when I enjoy reporting about the memories of binding traditions shared by Franco-Americans during Les Fêtes, including the beautiful custom of singing Cantiques de Noël.  There’s rarely a dry eye in the performance venues when Franco-Americans, and practically anyone else who shares French heritage, hears and sings Christmas Carols. Particularly moving are the French words to “O Holy Night“. In French, the title is Minuit Chrétien (Midnight Christians).

A literal translation of this chanson doesn’t convey the emotional impact of the title, when it’s sung during Les Fêtes.  A summons to “Peuple a genoux, attends ta delivrance!” is a powerfully spiritual command, for people to kneel before the newborn Sauveur (Savior). Indeed, the French lyrics are beautiful

Paroles de Cantique De Noel Minuit Chretiens

C’est l’heure solennelle
Ou l’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous

Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Pere arreter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d’esperance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
Peuple a genoux, attends ta delivrance!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!

Le Redempteur
A brise toute entrave:
La terre est libre et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un Frere ou n’etait qu’un esclave;
L’amour unit ceux qu’enchainait le fer.
Qui Lui dira notre reconnaissance?
C’est pour nous tous qu’Il nait,
Qu’Il souffre et meurt.
Peuple debout, chante ta delivrance!
Noel! Noel! Chantons le Redempteur!
Noel! Noel! Chantons le Redempteur!

A reader can easily translate the French words into English, but the power behind the lyrics are nearly impossible to transcribe with the emotional accuracy they convey.  “Peuple a genous, attends ta deliverance!” is a stunning command to the faithful, calling us to honor the Christ Child, born on Noël.

In my opinion, the French word Noël is a universally understood word that summons everyone to celebrate Christmas.  It’s not a particularly religious word, although it can be when it’s emphasized in song, like in “The First Noël “.

Moreover, Noël only means one thing. While other cultures translate Christmas from the literal “Christ’s birth Mass”, or “good birth” (buon natale, in Italian), the French use the simply elegant word, with universal meaning, that works for everybody, whether or not you happen to speak French or any other language. Noël means Christmas, but in French, the word transmits special meanings laced with centuries of traditions.

Christmas is Noel

Noel only means one thing. It means “Christmas”.

A root for this ancient word is traced to the word “natale”, the word for the holy birth celebrated in the Christian religion. In the Biblical tradition, the extension “el” means “of God. Therefore, Noël could mean “birth of God” or “night of God”.  In four letters, the French word defines the religious meaning of Christmas with succinct style. Yet, Noël translates the spirit of Christmas into any language. In other words, you don’t have to speak French to “get it”.

Canticles de Noël are joyously religious and reflect the devotion Franco-Americans uphold to celebrate the spiritual significance of Christmas. During Les Fêtes de Noël, the Franco-American culture binds families together around the French language, chansons, religion, food ((especially feasting with Tourtiers or “pork pies”) and traditional celebrations, hosted by churches and in the communities. As a matter of fact,  the Noël spirit, transcends nearly every value revered by the French culture.

Joyeux Noël is a charming translation of “Merry Christmas”.

Many links are available to Chants de Noël (Christmas songs) Click – Here is one.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.