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French Culture

Do the French Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on November 19, 2018

Do the French celebrate Thanksgiving? In this article, you’ll find the French Thanksgiving vocabulary as well as cultural notes about “le Jour de l’Action de Grâce(s)” as they say in Québec.

1 – Does France Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Not only France doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but the majority of French people don’t have a clue about what Thanksgiving is, and how important it is a celebration for our friends to the West.

Thanksgiving tradition is linked to the early British and French settlers that came to the Northern American continent, and it celebrates how these settlers shared their food with their Indian neighbors as a way to say “thank you” for showing them things they could eat: turkey, corn, sweet potatoes…

As big of a celebration as it is in the US and Canada, that’s pretty much the only countries that celebrate it (with few exceptions like Liberia or the Norfolk Islands).

For the French, the only idea of Thanksgiving they have is from American movies or sitcoms, where they can see the traditional, and often dysfunctional and/or hilarious, Hollywood view of it. “Friends” was a big hit in France and many French people remember Joey getting his head stuck in the turkey!

They are often surprised to find out that Thanksgiving in the US is a 2 days national holiday which is, in many families, more important than Christmas.

And let me tell you, putting together a traditional Thanksgiving meal in France can be a real feat – see why in Olivier’s article!

2 – Thanksgiving in French: Le Jour de l’Action de Grâce(s) or Merci Donnant

French-speaking Canada is where the French language and Thanksgiving really meet.

So the ‘official’ French translation of Thanksgiving is the one used in Canada: “le jour de l’action de grâce(s)” or  “le Jour de Merci Donnant” (although the English word “Thanksgiving” is also very much used there).

French thanksgiving in France

3 – French Thanksgiving Vocabulary

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  1. Un festin = a (food) feast
  2. Une dinde = turkey (note: “le dindon” is the live animal)
  3. La farce = the stuffing
  4. Une purée de pomme de terre = mash potatoes
  5. Un épis de maïs = corncob (note the pronunciation ma-iss)
  6. Du pain de maïs = corn bread
  7. Une sauce de canneberges/airelles = cranberry sauce
  8. La sauce au jus de viande = gravy (see Olivier’s very own gravy recipe with a French twist)
  9. Une tarte aux noix de pécans = pecan pie
  10. Une tarte aux pommes de terre douces = sweet potatoe pie
  11. Une tarte au potiron = pumpkin pie
  12. De la guimauve = marshmallow
  13. Des haricots verts = green beens
  14. La famille = family
  15. Une réunion de famille = a family gathering
  16. Dire ce pourquoi on est reconnaissants = to say what we are grateful for
  17. Dire merci, remercier = to say thank you, to thank
  18. La récolte = the harvest
  19. Les indiens d’Amérique = Native Americans
  20. Une colonie = a colony
  21. Un pèlerin = a pilgrim
  22. Une tradition = a tradition
  23. Un match de football américain = a football match

4 – What Sound Does a Turkey Make in French?

In French, “la dinde” (female turkey, also the name for the meat), and “le dindon” (male turkey) “glougloutent” – the verb is glouglouter, it’s a regular “er” verb, and the noun “le glougloutement” (we also say “glouglou”…)

thanksgiving in french

Astérix et Obélix copyright Uderzo

5 – Black Friday in France

“Black Friday” marks the start of the Holiday sales in the US (les soldes = sales).

In Franche, it started in 2015  with only big companies sending out “Black Friday” or “Cyber” sales over the internet or even coupon through the mail. It was still discreet though.

In 2017, I saw it for the first time affecting the stores in my small town of Paimpol, Brittany!

In 2018, it’s all over the Internet! All the online stores have some kind of “black week”, “black Friday lunches (!!)” (In English – see the picture of my inbox below)…

It would be hilarious to actually ask French people what they think “Black Friday” refers to…

Learn more about “Black Friday” in France and sales vocabulary in my article.

black friday in france

6 – Thanks in French

  1. “Merci” is ‘thank you’. Its pronounced like “mair see” (watch out, no “mur” sound!!)
  2. “Merci beaucoup” – ‘thank you very much’.
  3. “Mille mercis” or “merci mille fois” – kind of “thanks a million” but it’s only a thousand in French!
  4. “Merci du fond du coeur” – thank you from the bottom of my heart

Another way to say ‘thank you’ is to use the verb “remercier”, but it is quite formal in French, much less common than using “merci”. 

  1. Je vous remercie pour ce délicieux repas. I thank you for this delicious meal.

Learn more about how to thank in French in my article.

7 – How to say ‘I’m Grateful For” in French

At Thanksgiving, it’s a tradition to go around the table and say what you are grateful for, thankful for that year.

In French, to say you are grateful, the expression is “être reconnaissant(e)”

The preposition used after it is a bit tricky:
– “pour” / “de” + something
– “envers” + someone (sometimes “à” but I don’t like how it sounds!! It may be outdated now)

  1. Je suis reconnaissante pour la vie que j’ai en France – I’m thankful for the life I have in France
  2. Olivier et moi sommes reconnaissants envers tous les gens qui ont acheté nos livres audio : un grand merci à tous !
    Olivier and I are thankful to all the people how bought our audiobooks: a big thank-you to all!

Joyeux jour de l’Action de Grâce à vous et à votre famille !

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