8 February


La légende de saint Nicolas (also known as Il était trois petits enfants or Complainte de saint Nicolas) is a traditional French song with lyrics dating from the 18th century.

The story of the song

La légende de saint Nicolas was collected by Gérard de Nerval in the province of Valois in 1842.

This legend tells us how the good Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myre, resuscitated three innocent little victims of a greedy butcher and how he became the patron saint of children.

The first traces of the legend of the three innocents in the salt cellar date back to the 12th century.

La Légend de Saint-Nicolas © French Moments

Saint-Nicolas artefacts © French Moments

To better understand the context

The song mentions two important facts that help us to understand the context.

The children are gleaning in the field. Gleaning (glaner, in French) means picking up the heads of wheat that have been forgotten by those who have harvested. This was what very poor people did to be able to eat. It was because the three children were very poor that they gleaned. 

The salt cellar or salting tub is a kind of fridge of the past. Meat was stored there and salted a lot to prevent it from rotting and to eat it later.

La légende de Saint-Nicolas in Nancy © French Moments

Saint-Nicolas in Nancy © French Moments

Who was Saint Nicolas?

Saint Nicolas is the Patron Saint of Lorraine and is celebrated on the 6th of December in north-eastern France and the Flanders.

Learn more about Saint Nicolas on the blog!

Christmas in Kaysersberg © French Moments

Saint-Nicolas © French Moments

La légende de Saint-Nicolas

Lyrics, music, free download... let's learn more about the popular song:

The lyrics in French

The original song of La légende de Saint-Nicolas has 8 verses and a chorus.


Ils étaient trois petits enfants 
Qui s’en allaient glaner aux champs

Couplet 1

Ils sont allés chez le boucher
Boucher, voudrais-tu nous loger ?
Entrez, entrez, petits enfants
Y’a de la place, assurément

Couplet 2

Ils n’étaient pas sitôt entrés

Que le boucher les a tués,

Les a coupés en p’tits morceaux

Mis au saloir comme pourceaux.

Couplet 3

Saint Nicolas au bout d’sept ans

Vint à passer dedans ce champ,

Alla frapper chez le boucher :

Boucher, voudrais-tu me loger ?

Couplet 4

Entrez, entrez, saint Nicolas,

Y’a de la place, il n’en manque pas.

Il n’était pas sitôt entré
Qu’il a demandé à souper.

Couplet 5

Voulez-vous un morceau de jambon ?

Je n’en veux pas, il n’est pas bon.

Voulez-vous un morceau de veau ?

Je n’en veux pas, il n’est pas beau.

Couplet 6

Du p’tit salé, je veux avoir

Qu’il y a sept ans qu’est dans l’saloir.

Quand le boucher entendit ça,

Hors de la porte il s’enfuya.

Couplet 7

Boucher, boucher ne t’enfuis pas,

Repens-toi, Dieu te pardonnera.

Et le saint étendit trois doigts :
Les p’tits se lèvent tous les trois.

Couplet 8

Le premier dit : “J’ai bien dormi”.
Le second dit : “Et moi aussi”.
Et le troisième répondit :
“Je croyais être au paradis”.

Translation of the lyrics into English

Here is an approximative translation into English:


They were three little children
Who were going to glean in the fields

Verse 1

They went to the butcher
Butcher, would you like to give us shelter?
Come in, come in, little children
There's room for you, of course

Verse 2

They had not yet entered
When the butcher killed them,
Cut them into little pieces
Put them in the salting tub as pigs.

Verse 3

Saint Nicholas after seven years
Came to pass in this field,
Went to knock at the butcher's:
Butcher, would you like to lodge me?

Verse 4

Come in, come in, Saint Nicholas,
There's plenty of room.
He had not been in a moment
That he asked for supper.

Verse 5

Would you like a piece of ham?
I don't want it, it's not good.
Would you like a piece of veal?
I don't want it, it's not fine.

Verse 6

I want to have some dried meat
That's been in the salting tub for seven years.
When the butcher heard this
He ran out of the door.

Verse 7

Butcher, butcher, don't run away,
Repent, God will forgive you.
And the Saint stretched out three fingers:
The three of them stand up.

Verse 8

The first one said: "I slept well".
The second said: "And so did I".
And the third said:
"I thought I was in heaven.

Download the Lyrics for FREE!

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La légende de saint Nicolas © French Moments

French Nursery Rhymes

My challenge for the year 2023 is to publish 80 French Nursery Rhymes lyrics and descriptions (list below). Come back as time goes by to discover the new articles:

French Nursery Rhymes Cover by French Moments
French Nursery Rhymes
A la claire fontaine © French Moments
Ah ! dis-moi donc bergère © French Moments
Ah ! Les crocodiles © French Moments
Ah ! vous dirai-je, maman © French Moments
Ainsi font, font, font © French Moments
Alouette gentille alouette © French Moments
Au clair de la lune © French Moments
Au feu les pompiers © French Moments
Au royaume de Diguedondaine © French Moments
Auprès de ma blonde © French Moments
Aux marches du palais © French Moments
Blanc Blanc Blanc belle rose © French Moments
Bon voyage Monsieur Dumollet © French Moments
Buvons un coup ma serpette est perdue © French Moments
C'est la mère Michel © French Moments
C'était Anne de Bretagne © French Moments
Cadet Rousselle © French Moments
Car c’est un bon camarade © French Moments
Chère Élise © French Moments
Chevaliers de la table ronde © French Moments
Colchiques dans les prés © French Moments
Compagnons de la Marjolaine © French Moments
Dame Tartine © French Moments
Dans les prisons de Nantes © French Moments
Dansons la capucine © French Moments
Dodo, l'enfant do © French Moments
En passant par la Lorraine © French Moments
Fais dodo © French Moments
Fleur d’épine © French Moments
Frère Jacques © French Moments
Gentil coquelicot © French Moments
Il court, il court, le furet © French Moments
Il était un petit cordonnier © French Moments
Il était un petit navire © French Moments
Il était une bergère © French Moments
Il pleut, il pleut, bergère © French Moments
J'ai du bon tabac © French Moments
J'ai un gros nez rouge © French Moments
J'fais pipi sur le gazon © French Moments
Je te tiens par la barbichette © French Moments
Joyeux anniversaire © French Moments
La bonne aventure ô gué © French Moments
La danse des canards © French Moments
La légende de saint Nicolas © French Moments
Le bon roi Dagobert © French Moments
Le carillon de Vendôme © French Moments
Le coucou © French Moments
Le facteur n'est pas passé © French Moments
Le fermier dans son pré © French Moments
Le temps des cerises © French Moments
Le temps du muguet © French Moments
Le vieux MacDonald © French Moments
Les filles de La Rochelle © French Moments
Maman les p'tits bateaux © French Moments
Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre © French Moments
Meunier, tu dors © French Moments
Mignonne allons voir si la rose © French Moments
Mon âne © French Moments
Mon père m'a donné un mari © French Moments
Ne pleure pas Jeannette © French Moments
Nous n'irons plus au bois © French Moments
Ô gai, vive la rose © French Moments
Passe passe passera © French Moments
Pirouette Cacahuète © French Moments
Plantons la vigne © French Moments
Pomme de reinette et pomme d'api © French Moments
Pomme, pêche, poire, abricot © French Moments
Promenons-nous dans les bois © French Moments
Savez-vous planter les choux ? © French Moments
Sur la route de Dijon © French Moments
Sur la route de Louviers © French Moments
Sur le pont d'Avignon © French Moments
Sur le pont du nord © French Moments
Tout va très bien madame la marquise © French Moments
Trois jeunes tambours © French Moments
Un éléphant ça trompe énormément © French Moments
Un kilomètre à pied © French Moments
Un, deux, trois, nous irons au bois © French Moments
Une chanson douce © French Moments
Une poule sur un mur © French Moments
Une souris verte © French Moments
V'la le bon vent © French Moments
Voici le mois de mai © French Moments
Y avait dix filles dans un pré © French Moments
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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