OK, I’m cheating a little bit. We are not just going to talk about one word but several, to help us navigate the yearly minefield that is… season’s greetings in French.
The word voeu is the direct translation of vow in English. It can be used in the sense of religious vows, as in the vows we make when we get married, or the vows of godparents at a Christening.
Voeu or its plural voeux, is also used to express a wish or desire. It is a polite way to express our best to the recipient, for example when we send a note to someone in hospital wishing a speedy recovery with our meilleurs vœux de prompt rétablissement.
Never will you hear the word voeux bandied around as much as it is around Christmas and New Year. It is a nice all-rounder to wish someone Happy Holidays, particularly as it does not make any assumptions to religious observance. But just when you have your “meilleurs voeux” down to a science, people start wishing you things that sound completely different. Here’s a quick guide to what you may encounter:
Joyeux Noël – Merry Christmas
Bonne Année – Happy New Year
Meilleurs Voeux – Best Wishes
Joyeuses Fêtes – Happy Holidays
Bonnes Fêtes – Happy Holidays
Bonnes Fêtes de Fin d’Année – Seasons Greetings
and then you’ll get the original ones, such as our dear friend who wishes us an expansive “Bonne Noël, Bonne Année, du gaz, de l’eau et d’electricité!” (have a Christmas and good year, with water, gas and electricity) or sometimes a motivational “nouvel an, nouvel élan!” (new year, new energy).
We end up in a slightly more formal context, a wish that you can use in closing or to end a letter, and my wish to you:
Je vous présente mes meilleurs vœux pour l’année 2014!