While you are all familiar with such Christmas staple songs as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Holy Night, Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland, you may not be aware that we sing the same songs in French, only with translated lyrics. Sometimes the French lyrics are very similar to the English ones (Sleigh Ride is about a, well, sleigh ride in both languages, for instance). But quite often, only the melody is retained and the whole theme of the song changes entirely. Most often it’s because the new theme allows the French version to use words that fit the music better. Other times, it’s because the song would make cultural references that wouldn’t be as familiar.
One of the most different songs when translated is Jingle Bells. The original English song is about riding in a one-horse sleigh on a bright winter day. The French version, however, becomes Vive le vent and is all about the cold winter wind and how it brings an old man memories of his childhood winters.
Almost as different is Holy Night, the song about Jesus’ birth, which becomes Minuit, chrétiens, a reference to the Catholic midnight mass so popular in Québec. One of the starkest differences is the translation of the verse, “Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!”, which in French becomes, “Peuple à genoux! Attend ta délivrance!” (Kneeling people, await thy deliverance!)
It’s rather interesting that the English version is an exhortation to kneel in worship of the newborn King of Kings, while the French version addresses an already kneeling people, telling them that they will need kneel no longer when Jesus brings about their deliverance.
It’s not only the Christmas carols that are reworked. Sometimes a concept is simply given a little tweak to fit in better with the French culture. You may remember old Canadian Tire commercials featuring the character of Scrooge. The concept was well summed-up with the chain’s Christmas slogan: “Give like Santa and save like Scrooge!”
While Scrooge is known in Québec thanks to the translated Dickens work and of course its numerous adaptations, he’s just not traditionally a part of the lore. He’s more of a British creation. So when Canadian Tire produced French versions of the commercial, they kept the concept of the penny-pinching miser, but Scrooge instead became “Gratteux” (a French slang term for a spendthrift or a cheapskate), Santa’s accountant elf. The character’s costume remained the same and he was simply played by a French-Canadian actor.
courtesy – Chez Seb
©2016 Linda Sullivan – Simpson
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