Gobble, gobble, gobble! I mean, glouglou glouglou glouglou ! When autumn rolls around, it’s time to brush up on that Thanksgiving vocabulary in French! Learn the names of different activities, dishes, and even how turkeys talk!
Though its origins are controversial, Thanksgiving remains a very important North American holiday. It’s an event centered around giving thanks for the year’s blessings and, more traditionally, for a good harvest. For some, Thanksgiving is even more important than Christmas and many will travel from afar just to be with family on this day.
But just like Halloween, Thanksgiving is a foreign concept in France and French-speaking Europe. Beyond mere glimpses into the festivities—courtesy of the news, social media, and Hollywood productions—the average French person is unlikely to have much exposure to Thanksgiving, let alone know much about it. It’s a holiday that remains méconnu—misunderstood, little known, or a plain mystery!
All of this makes Thanksgiving a perfect subject for cultural exchange with francophone friends, whether you’re American, Canadian, or just someone who’s spent time in North America. So if you’re looking for Thanksgiving vocabulary in French to help you explain your Turkey Day practices to others, keep reading!
Thanksgiving, le/la Thanksgiving ou Action de grâce ?
Before we hit the vocabulary lists, let’s address the
elephant turkey in the room: what is Thanksgiving called in French?
In French-speaking Europe, you’ll most often see Thanksgiving on its own, without an article (like Halloween). This appears to be the standard. Nice and neat.
That said, both le Thanksgiving and la Thanksgiving will also crop up—even in dictionaries—which raises the question of noun gender. This is perhaps the result of using expressions like le jour de Thanksgiving and la fête de Thanksgiving, which introduce other nouns with clearly established genders. Unfortunately, there seems to be no consensus on the issue. (Perhaps it’s time for l’Académie française to weigh in?)
Now, what about in Québec, where Thanksgiving is a familiar tradition? The language authorities at the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) endorse the all-French term, Action de grâce(s), which is widely used in French-speaking Canada, but not really in Europe. Note that it’s feminine, that the A in Action is capitalized when referring to the holiday, and that grâce can be singular or plural.
Finally, there is sometimes mention of le Jour de Merci Donnant. However, I’ve always understood this to be a humourous translation, coined for a famous American humour column, rather than an official term used by francophones. (This French article sheds light on the column. You can also look up the Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, Arthur Buchwald.) As a result, I don’t recommend using it, unless in jest.
So, which should YOU use? For simplicity and near-universal comprehension, stick to Thanksgiving without the article. But if you’re in Canada or prefer things 100% français, use l’Action de grâce(s).
Le lexique de Thanksgiving
Key: Masculine Noun / Feminine Noun
adj. = adjective
Gratitude and Giving Thanks
Now, let’s talk about gratitude and how to express it in French! A simple merci always goes a long way in French, but here are some more words for your lexical arsenal!
Key: qqn = quelqu’un (someone) / qqc = quelque chose (something)
adj. = adjective
Finally, let’s talk turkey. Because surely turkeys sound the same in any language, right? Birds of the same feather… gobble together? It turns out this is not the case! While the anglophone turkey gobble-gobbles, its francophone cousin makes a different sound. Here’s some vocabulary you’ll need as you talk about this multilingual bird.
Fun fact: The French names come from coq d’Inde and poule d’Inde, which basically translate as “chicken of India.” This is what turkeys were called when they were first brought over to Europe from the New World, which was initially thought to be India.
On that note, joyeuse fête de Thanksgiving, bonne Action de grâce, and Happy Turkey Day!
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Got that French Thanksgiving vocabulary down pat? Looking for more vocabulary lessons?
Find all my posts on French vocabulary right here! Packed with memorable graphics and designed to help you master those tricky noun genders and spellings, my lessons will make learning easier and show you the FUN in French!
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