How do you celebrate the holidays?
All over the world, Christmas is a time to exchange presents, be with family and loved ones, and have fun.
Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, maybe your friends do. Or maybe your neighborhood or city has events for the holiday. In America, and in many other places, Christmas is not always celebrated in a religious way—it’s about the “spirit of Christmas.”
What is the spirit of Christmas? Love, giving and a feeling of magic and warmth!
Christmas means good food and decorated homes. It also means a lot of new English vocabulary, some of which is only used during this season.
It’s important to know how to speak about Christmas in English, because many English speakers celebrate the holiday—even if they celebrate it a little differently from each other.
Christmas in Different Cultures
People celebrate Christmas all over the world! Christmas celebrations are not all the same, though. Every culture and place has a different way of enjoying the holiday and different traditions (customs passed down from generation to generation). In some cultures, the holiday is secular (something that is not religious).
For instance, my own family is Jewish, but we’re from Russia. We celebrate Christmas on New Year’s Day or sometimes even on January 7—because that’s a Russian tradition. My husband, however, is from Peru, so they greet the Christmas Day at midnight of Christmas Eve, and open presents that night. Between both of our holiday traditions, we have a Christmas tree up for almost a month!
In Germany, people dressed as Saint Nicholas (the saint that Santa Claus is based on) visit schools, where children say a poem or sing a song to get small gifts or sweets. In Sweden, almost half of the country watches the Donald Duck Christmas movie on Christmas Eve, since it’s played on TV at 3 p.m.
As you can see, Christmas celebrations are very different around the world!
Talking About the Holidays in English
It’s important to learn English words for the Christmas season because it’s a big part of many English-speaking cultures. Christmas might be celebrated only on December 24 and 25, but people talk about it more than that.
In America, people start talking about the holidays around November, which is also when Christmas songs start playing on the radio. You might also start seeing symbols of the holidays—like the Christmas tree—after Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations are taken down.
Plus, many of the expressions introduced in this video from the FluentU English YouTube channel become part of everyday conversations all around the country:
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FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
In the meantime, so you can join in on holiday conversations, here are some other words you’ll also need to know!
35 Jolly English Vocabulary Words for a Truly Rockin’ Christmas
One fun thing about Christmas is putting up the decorations, which are pretty items you put around the house or outside to make your home more attractive for the holidays.
Christmas trees have their own kinds of decorations, called ornaments. These decorations can look like anything, but one of the most common Christmas ornaments are shiny ball-shaped decorations that you hang from the tree branches.
After you hang all the ornaments, it’s time to put the tinsel on the tree. Tinsel is long strings of shiny strips of foil. They’re usually silver, red or gold, and they look beautiful when the light reaches the fluffy foil!
Christmas stockings are hung up near the tree as well. Every family member gets one stocking, which is shaped like a large sock. Small gifts are usually placed inside, like candy or small toys. These small gifts are called stocking stuffers, because they’re stuffed (put) in stockings.
The tree is not the only bit of nature people bring into their homes for the holidays. Three traditional Christmas plants are holly, poinsettias, and mistletoe. All three come in the colors of Christmas: green and red. Holly and poinsettias are used just as decorations, but mistletoe has a special meaning. Hang one somewhere high, and any two people who stand under the mistletoe together must kiss!
You can bring Christmas cheer outside your home, too, by hanging a wreath on your door. A wreath is a round decoration usually made with leaves and other natural objects like pinecones and flowers.
You can even decorate yourself by putting a garland around your neck. A garland is a cord that—like a wreath—is made of twigs, leaves and flowers, though these are usually fake.
Giving and getting gifts
Christmas is the time for giving and receiving presents, which are things that you give to others as a gift.
To get your presents ready, you have to cover them in wrapping paper, which is special decorative paper that hides your gift so it’s a surprise. Wrapping paper is fun to tear open on Christmas!
Finally, for your present to be really ready, you put ribbon around it, or a strip of fabric or fabric-like material.
When you were a child, you might have believed in Santa Claus, a fat man who lives in the North Pole (the northern part of the world).
Santa wears a red coat, pants and hat, and gives out presents on Christmas Eve to children around the world. Santa is a jolly man, which means he’s very happy and friendly!
Of course, even if he isn’t real, Santa can’t do all that on his own. He has little magical people called elves to help him make all the toys and other presents.
When it’s time to go deliver the presents, Santa puts them in a sack, or a very large bag usually made from some kind of thick fabric.
According to the story, Santa rides in a sleigh, a special vehicle which is made to be pulled by animals through the snow. Sleighs are real vehicles, but Santa’s sleigh is magical—it can fly!
To pull the sleigh, Santa uses deer-like animals with antlers (long, branch-like horns) called reindeer. Some people think reindeer are just imaginary animals created for the Santa story, but they’re real animals!
These days many people live in apartments, so it’s harder to explain how Santa gets into homes. But many private homes have chimneys, square pipes which let out the smoke from a fireplace (or a kitchen). Santa uses chimneys to get into homes. How does he fit his fat stomach and big sack through a thin chimney? It’s magic!
Traditional Christmas food and drinks
Traditional Christmas food and drinks are different around the world. In America, there’s a big focus on things that make you feel warm, like hot drinks and spices. Many places have a feast—a large meal eaten in celebration.
Many traditional foods are sweet treats. Gingerbread cookies are made from sweet and sticky molasses and the ginger root. Fruitcake is a bread-like cake with candied fruits. If you don’t like fruitcakes, you might prefer a Christmas pudding, which is a creamy brown dessert that uses nuts, raisins and sometimes cherries.
Candy canes are candy sticks curved on the end like a walking stick, usually with red and white stripes. These days candy canes come in many different flavors, but traditionally they taste like peppermint, a type of mint plant with a very fresh smell and taste.
In the United Kingdom, another favorite Christmas treat is the mince pie, a small pie made from dried fruit, spices and sometimes cut up meat (“mince” means to cut up meat into very small pieces).
Christmas has some special drinks too, like eggnog, which is made with egg and cream (you either love it or you hate it!). Another common drink is apple cider, a thick apple juice that’s usually served warm with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Both eggnog and apple cider can be mixed with alcohol for extra warmth.
Spending time with the family
Of course, the best part of Christmas isn’t the delicious food or the awesome presents… it’s spending time with your family and people you care about. Families come together on Christmas to enjoy the festivities together, meaning to celebrate the happy holiday.
Some families go caroling, which is when you sing traditional Christmas songs (called “carols”) to other people to make everyone feel happier.
Christmas sometimes lasts longer than just a night and a day, with the use of an advent calendar. This is a special religious calendar that can show 12 days or even as much as a month. Each day you open a tiny flap, which reveals a special picture or activity.
Sometimes the best time you can have, though, is sitting with the whole family in front of a fireplace, a special area in a house where you can have a fire indoors. Even if you don’t have a fireplace, today you can watch the burning of a special Christmas yule log on TV or even online.
Now you’re all warmed up and ready to celebrate Christmas… in English. Enjoy the holidays!