christmas vocabulary listIt’s fast approaching what the English speaking world sometimes call the most wonderful time of the year (as in a classic Andy Williams Christmas song). We are already in advent, the 24 days leading up to Christmas itself – so it’s time to brush up on some Christmas vocabulary, and get in the spirit of talking about nothing else until January! Here’s a list of some important Christmas words, and considerations for their wider use:

 

The names of days and times around Christmas

These names and expressions are used to talk about different times in the Christmas period.

  • Christmas Day: in the UK, December 25th, the day when presents are exchanged and feasts are had by all
  • Christmas Eve: the day before Christmas
  • Boxing Day: the day after Christmas Day
  • Advent: the 24 days leading up to Christmas (Dec 1st to 24th); advent is used more generally in English to mean the arrival of something important
  • Christmas time: loosely describes the time around Christmas – usually the weeks surrounding the day, sometimes used to mean all of December, or sometimes a few days around (also, even more loosely, the festive period)

 

Vocabulary using the word Christmas

Many words in English form popularly understood collocations with Christmas: Christmas crackers, Christmas carols, Christmas cards, Christmas trees and many more. At this time of year, even without the word Christmas before them, these words will be understood in a festive context – but all the following words could be seen with Christmas in front of them:

  • crackers: colourful card or paper tubes that people pull apart with a loud snap or bang. Usually containing a joke, a gift and a paper crown.
  • carols: traditional songs about Christmas, often religious, such as Silent Night. A Christmas Carol is also the name of a popular Charles Dicken story set at Christmas.
  • cards: Christmas cards are greetings like birthday cards sent to family and friends to offer seasons greetings.
  • presents: the gifts given on Christmas Day (or around the holiday)
  • decorations: the various bright and cheerful objects put up around a home at Christmas
  • tree: evergreen trees, or artificial ones, are put up in houses around Christmas, often with fancy decorations
  • ornaments: decorations put around the house or hung on the Christmas tree
  • wreath: a circle of flowers or leaves hung on doors as part of the decorations

The following expressions should be used with the word Christmas, otherwise the meaning will be unclear:

  • Christmas pudding: the Christmas pudding, specifically, is a special fruit and alcohol pudding that is only really eaten at Christmas
  • Christmas cake: normally a heavy fruit cake covered in white icing
  • Christmas spirit: the idea of being kind and generous in joining with the general mood of the time of celebration
  • white Christmas: the idea that there will be snow on Christmas Day
  • Christmas lights: public light displays that are put up over the period, for instance in town centres
  • Merry Christmas: a traditional greeting used to celebrate the day
  • Christmas song: songs related to Christmas (or at least popular around the time) – often a large part of Christmas, with music continually played and pop artists releasing themed tunes
  • Christmas Number One: the song that is top of the charts on Christmas day; the seasonal songs all race for this title!

 

Christmas vocabulary that doesn’t include the word Christmas

These words and expressions don’t come with the word Christmas, but are all related to the time of year. These are loosely grouped into general themes, so dip in and out as you choose!

Decorations and traditional items/food

  • angel: a traditional symbol of the time, angels are particularly featured as decorations on top of Christmas trees
  • tinsel: glittering streamers hung as part of the decorations
  • fairy lights: lines of small electric lights used for decorations
  • wrapping paper: paper used to wrap Christmas gifts, usually with Christmas themes
  • snowman: a figure made from snow, a symbol of the time of year
  • seasons greetings: an expression said to share goodwill with others around Christmas time; the season in this case referring to the Christmas period
  • mistletoe: a seasonal plant that is hung over doors; traditionally, people are supposed to kiss if they meet under a piece of mistletoe
  • Xmas: an abbreviated form of Christmas
  • mince pies: small sweet pies filled with mincemeat
  • gingerbread: special dough made with ginger, often for men or house shaped snacks
  • egg-nog: an alcoholic egg-based drink drunk at the time of year

 

Santa

  • Santa Claus: (also Father Christmas, St Nicholas, St Nick, Chris Crimble and a few others!) the big jolly fat man in a red suit who delivers presents to children
  • sleigh: a (usually) wooden cart dragged over snow or ice, the transport Santa Claus uses (his one can fly)
  • reindeer: deer from the Arctic circle typically associated with Santa Claus (they pull his sleigh)
  • chimney: a flute going from a fireplace to the roof, to let smoke out of a house – where Santa normally sneaks in
  • fireplace: an area in a house for a lit fire, where decorations may be left and stockings hung
  • elves: small magical people who help build presents for Santa to give away
  • North Pole: the cold place in the Arctic Circle where Santa is said to live (also Lapland)
  • stockings: large red socks hung over the fireplace, which are mysteriously filled with presents on the night of Christmas Eve…
  • ho ho ho: the distinctive laughter of Santa Claus
  • secret Santa: a randomised gift-giving tradition, where people give each other one present each chosen by names picked out of a hat

Nativity

  • nativity scene: the traditional image of Jesus Christ’s birth (in a stable with various visitors!)
  • three wise men: the traditional three kings who visited Christ at his birth
  • the Star of Bethlehem: the idea of the start that guided the wise men to find Jesus
  • a manger: the crib that Jesus slept in, usually the focal part of the nativity scene
  • midnight mass: a special religious Christmas ceremony held on Christmas Eve, into midnight to start celebration as the day begins
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