Dreaming of a French Christmas? Noël in Paris sounds pretty enticing, right? But if you’re unable to make it to the City of Lights for the holidays, we got you covered with this ultimate playlist. Just like in the US, French Christmas songs start to be everywhere comes December. We compiled the best and most beloved ones for you, from Middle Ages carols to 20th century hits. The French love their ‘chants de Noël’ so let’s take a listen.
The oldest French Christmas songs
1. Noël Nouvelet
Let’s start with the oldest of French Christmas songs. This Cantique de Noël (Christmas Carol) dates all the way back to the 15th century. There is an English version as well, called “Sing We Now of Christmas”. Enjoy this lovely version by the Madrigal de Paris choir.
2. Entre Le Boeuf Et L'âne Gris
This is also one of the oldest French Christmas Songs, or Chants de Noël, this time from the early 16th century. The beautiful song is still popular today and widely sung. It depicts the Nativity Scene, starting with the “ox and the grey donkey”, both supposed to have been there in the stable. The other stanzas go into description of the full scene in many poetic details. Enjoy this choir version by L’Accroche Choeur.
3. Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle
A Provençal carol from the 17th century, Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle tells the story of two milkmaids who discover the baby Jesus and his mother in the stable. They run to a nearby village with great excitement and tell the inhabitants, who then rush to see the new arrivals. The lively music was originally intended only for dance, and this is one of several French Christmas songs that were later translated in English, as Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.
The Modern Hits
4. Petit Papa Noël
At the other end of the spectrum we find many hugely popular French Christmas songs that first came out in the 20th or 21st century and became enduring classics. Possibly THE most well-known one is Petit Papa Noël, by Tino Rossi. Almost every child in France sings it at the holidays, eagerly awaiting the gifts Papa Noël brings. Enjoy this classic video of the chanteur himself, from 1946.
5. Le Noël de la Rue
Iconic songbird Edith Piaf may not be the first to come to mind when thinking of French Christmas songs, but this number has become a beloved staple. Recorded in 1951, the songs follows les enfants de la rue (the street children) as they too experience the magic of Christmas despite the cold and the wind. This version has easy to follow lyrics to sing along.
6. C'est Noël
Although it has been covered by many artists, including Tino Rossi and many others, this song was first recorded by French actor and singer Fernandel in 1956 for the film Honoré de Marseilles. It has become one of the most popular French Christmas songs ever since.
7. Noël à Paris
In this lovely original ballad, Charles Aznavour tells the simple story of a couple who finds themselves in tête-à-tête in grey Paris on Christmas and find solace in their love for each other. The song was part of a Christmas album this most popular and enduring French singer – sometimes dubbed the “French Sinatra” – released in 1978, called Un Enfant Est Né (A Child Is Born).
8. Joyeux Noël (Henri Salvador)
Henri Salvador is another favorite French crooner who penned a lovely and spirited Christmas number simply called Joyeux Noël (Happy Christmas). With its engaging melody and wholesome lyrics, it’s a must have on any compilation of French Christmas songs.
9. La Fille du Père Noël
Jacques Dutronc is well known for his fun lyrics and sense of comedy. Pair that with a rock’n roll sensibility and you will end up with one of the most hilarious French Christmas songs. In La Fille du Père Noël, the son of Père Fouettard (the one who is supposed to punish the naughty children) is swept off his feet by Santa’s daughter. How shocking!
10. Mon Plus Beau Noël
Because the French simply adore him (he practically had a national funeral when he passed in 2017), we couldn’t make a French Christmas songs playlist without including a Johnny Hallyday number. This tender song released in 2005 has remained a favorite . “Johnny” as he is known in France, sings about the magical feeling of hope and love a new child brings.
11. Joyeux Noël (Barbara)
Another song called Joyeux Noël, this one by the great Barbara. Known as La Dame Noire (The Black Lady) because of her dramatic outfits, Barbara is famous for her deeply personal lyrics and inspired songwriting. Her voice has enthralled several generations with numbers such as L’Aigle Noir, Nantes, or Göttingen (said to have contributed more to post-war German–French reconciliation than any speech by a politician). Here she adopts a lighter style and tells the story of two lovers each going to see their respective amants, only to inadvertently meet on the way and have an impromptu one-night Christmas love affair. Very French, non?
The Classic Carols
12. Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes
Of unknown origin but attributed by some to the region of Languedoc, this beloved traditional French Christmas song probably dates back to the 18th century and provided the melody for the English-language Angels We Have Heard on High. You will recognize the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” chorus, with its entrancing repetition of the word “Gloria” – just how many are there?
13. Douce Nuit, Sainte Nuit
An all-time favorite, this is the French version of the famous 19th century German carol Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht (Silent Night, holy night in English). This version is sung by Les Compagnons de la Chansons, an all male French choir from the 1950s and 60s. Not very well known outside France, this group got some much deserved visibility among the hip crowd when Van Dyke Parks (The Beach Boys, Joanna Newsom) cited them as a major influence during a promotional interview.
14. Mon Beau Sapin
The French version of O Tannenbaum!, this is one that is universally sung by adults and kids alike at Christmas. This version has lyrics for you to follow along. You’ll find out you already know one of the most beloved French Christmas songs! And our favorites Les Compagnons de la Chansons also did their version here.
15. Il Est Né Le Divin Enfant
Every French person knows this one as well. A more religious number from the late 19th century, it evokes the birth of Christ (English He is born, the divine Child) and remains one of the best known French Christmas songs. Not a lot of people know that Annie Lennox did an avant-garde take on it – listen here.
16. Minuit, chrétiens
Here is a solemn number that translates to Midnight, christians. Composed in the mid 19th century, this carol is often sung by a solo barytone or tenor accompanied by an organ at the first mass said on Christmas Eve. We chose a lighter and less traditional version by 60s singer Nana Mouskouri. You can enjoy the live TV version below and the studio recording here.
The Standards You Will Recognize
17. Vive Le Vent
The French version of Jingle Bells is hugely popular in the French classrooms. Our favorite version is this 1960s recording by the great Dalida. For the kids version with lyrics to follow along, just go here.
18. L'Enfant Au Tambour
Here you will recognize The Little Drummer Boy, also a favorite among French Christmas songs. Below is the video with lyrics, great for kids. One of the most famous version is also by Nana Mouskouri, check it out here.
19. Au Royaume du Bonhomme Hiver
Here is another great 60s recording, this time of the French version of Winter Wonderland. Have you ever heard of Claude Valade? Well now you have.
20. Le Petit Renne Au Nez Rouge
And so...Joyeuses Fêtes!
This is how we wish each other Happy Holidays in French. Whatever you celebrate, we hope you enjoyed this selection of French Christmas songs. If you’re looking for more French music, be sure to check out our other post about French songs you can sing along, Popular French Songs Every Student Should Learn.