When it comes to festive music, the French are seriously unfestive.
The French don’t hark the herald nor even have shepherds who wash their socks by night. In general, the French don’t sing in church. You won’t get a hymn book at Mass. On the other hand, we Anglicans sing our hearts out, and if we do have hymns and carols.
Don’t get me wrong though, the French do have a few tunes that they sing along to at Midnight Mass. ‘Adeste Fideles’ (O Come All Ye Faithful) is a standard. ‘Les anges dans nos campagnes’ is another classic. It has a nice, rousing ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ at the end. There is apparently an English version of this carol – ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’. Another popular carol with an English equivalent is ‘Douce Nuit’ (Silent Night). Of course Midnight Mass is just never complete without a lusty rendition of ‘Ave Maria’ which is never all that lusty.
In France, the compilations that do exist are mostly French versions of British Christmas classics. ‘Jingle Bells’ becomes ‘Vive le Vent d’Hiver’. Rudolph is ‘Le petit Renne au Nez Rouge’. For ‘Silver bells’ the French have ‘Les Cloches de Noël’, and if you do get enough snow for a sleigh ride together with you in France you’ll get ‘La Promenade en Traîneau’.
The all-time French Christmas classic has to be ‘Petit Papa Noël’ sung by Tino Rossi. First recorded in 1946, the song has been re-released every Christmas since and has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. In the song, on Christmas Eve, a young boy casts his eyes to heaven and addresses a last heartfelt message to Father Christmas, before the Sandman arrives.