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No. 62: American Christmas or French Thanksgiving

The French have reluctantly taken on a few of our American holidays and traditions…Halloween, bachelorette or hen parties, and lavish weddings, for example. Luckily, Thanksgiving is still a mystery to them. As it should be, given that the history of the holiday is exclusively tied to America.

They don’t have a good handle on what it is all about (and I might add, neither do our dear British allies…).

As I set out on my annual scavenger hunt to find all the necessary ingredients for our feast, I watched several shop keepers have their “AHA moments”, when I told them I needed so-and-so for le jour de grâces.

I even tried: le jour de l’action de grâce.

After repeating it several times, a smile would spread across their faces, and they would say, “Madame, vouliez-vous dire Noël américain?”

“No, kind sir, I don’t mean American Christmas! I mean Thanksgiving.”

Humph. Noël américain.”

So this year, I decided to celebrate American Christmas in a very French Thanksgiving-ish way. I chose to host a wine tasting Thanksgiving chez nous. Complete with foie gras and strange French farce (stuffing).


My precious friend and wine expert Hélène chose a yummy menu of four wines (two white and two reds) and a bubbly magnum of champagne to sample over the course of the evening. Who knew wine could taste of grass and honey, dirt and mold, black berries and grapefruit. It was a hoot and a delicious way to remember to be grateful for the wonderful group of international friends we have in Paris…

…and to enlighten a few of our French friends on the finer points of American Christmas Thanksgiving.



le jour de grâces / le jour de l’action de grâce: Thanksgiving

“Madame, vouliez-vous  dire Noël américain?”: “Madam, do you mean American Christmas?”

Noël américain: American Christmas.


Autre Vocabulaire (curtesy of Laura K. Lawless,

autumn, fall   l’automne

colony   une colonie

family   la famille

feast   un festin, un banquet

football   le football américain

grateful (adj)   reconnaissant 

harvest   la récolte

horn of plenty   la corne d’abondance

native (adj)   indigène

(Native American) Indians    les Indiens (d’Amérique)

November   novembre

parade   une parade

Pilgrims   les pèlerins

settler   un colonisateur

to share   partager

thanks   les remerciements

Thursday   jeudi

tradition   une tradition

traditional (adj)   traditionnel

treaty   un pacte

tribe   une tribu

Some traditional dishes served on Thanksgiving:

food   la nourriture

bread   le pain

corn   le maïs 

cranberry   la canneberge

gravy   la sauce au jus de viande

mashed potatoes   la purée

pumpkin pie   la tarte à la citrouille

stuffing   la farce

sweet potato   la patate douce

turkey   la dinde 

yam   un igname


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dorrie Runman #

    In 1952, Art Buchwald tried to explain Thanksgiving to the French thus:

    Le Grande Thanksgiving

    By Art Buchwald
    This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.

    One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.

    Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l’Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts’ content.

    They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.

    In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins’ crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.

    Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.

    It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :

    “Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.

    “I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui es pain comme un étudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden.”

    Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable à être emballé ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l’tonnement et las tristesse ).

    At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: “If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?” ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)

    Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn’t have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Jean?” ( Chacun à son gout. )

    And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.

    No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fête and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.

    November 30, 2013
  2. Sarah Larson #

    What a lovely way to spend Thanksgiving!

    November 30, 2013

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