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  1. #1
    Alex Case is offline Site Contributor
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    Default Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    As with the dictionary of football we had during the World Cup, I'll be posting my entries up here bit by bit in the hope that people will tell me things that I've missed out, got wrong or not explained very well. The whole dictionary will then be available as a PDF some time before Xmas:

    Advent calendar – A calendar from the first of December until Christmas Day that has little cardboard doors that are opened every day to reveal pictures, chocolates etc

    Auld Lang’s Syne – The song that is usually sung at the very beginning of the New Year, often with people linking hands. People only hear and sing this song at New Year and its lyrics are in Scots (a local Scottish dialect of English), so people can only usually remember a few words and just hum the rest. The title can loosely be translated as “(for) old time’s (sake)”.

    Baubles – Things that hang off the CHRISTMAS TREE to make it more colourful.

    Bethlehem – A small town near Jerusalem where Jesus is supposed to have been born. It is mentioned in many CHRISTMAS CAROLS, e.g. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.

    Big Ben – This is the name of the bell inside the Houses of Parliament near the Thames in London, and is often also used for the famous clock and tower that it is in. In the UK, most New Year parties and TV channels play the chimes of Big Ben to mark the exact start of the New Year.

    Boxing Day – The day after Christmas. No one really knows why it is called Boxing Day, but theories include boxes of good being given to servants and the alms boxes in the church being opened to give money to the poor.

    Boxing Day Bank Holiday – A bank holiday is a public holiday in Britain, usually on a Monday. If Christmas Day or Boxing Day are at the weekend when people are usually on holiday anyway, they get an extra day’s holiday just after.

    Brandy sauce – The traditional sauce for CHRISTMAS PUDDING and sometimes MINCE PIES that is similar to custard and is made from butter, sugar, milk, and brandy.

    Carol service – A church service to celebrate Xmas in which CAROLs are sung, often before Xmas and organised by a school.

    Carolling – Singing CHRISTMAS CAROLS outside people’s houses, nowadays usually to collect money for charity but traditionally to be offered food and drink by the people who live there.

    Chimney – The part of the house where the smoke from the fires comes from. FATHER CHRISTMAS is supposed to come down the chimney to deliver the presents, which is why the CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS are usually hung on the FIREPLACE.

    Christ child – Another way to say “baby Jesus”, rarely used in speech but part of many CHRISTMAS CAROLS.

    Christmas cake – In Britain, a Christmas cake is usually a heavy cake made with lots of dried fruit, with MARZIPAN and thick white icing on it. The white icing looks like snow and is often decorated with snowmen etc.

    Christmas card – A folded piece of card (thick paper) that is similar to a birthday card, but with a colourful Xmas scene on the outside (e.g. a NATIVITY SCENE or the THREE WISE MEN) and people’s names and a Christmas greeting (e.g. “MERRY CHRISTMAS and a Happy New Year”) inside. Unlike letters or emails, you usually write “To (person it is being sent to)” and “(Love) from (the people sending it)” . Many families send out hundreds of Xmas cards, including to people who they rarely contact during the rest of the year. This makes the postal system so busy that cards can take weeks to get to their destination. Nowadays many Xmas cards have non-religious themes such as saying “SEASON’S GREETINGS” inside and having a picture of a ROBIN and snow.

    Christmas carols – Traditional and/ or religious songs about Christmas. Although “carols” means the same as “Christmas carols” (similar songs at other times of the year are called “hymns”), it is quite common to still use the full expression. CHRISTMAS SONGS are non-religious songs about the season. “A Christmas Carol” is also the name of the famous story by Charles Dickens about SCROOGE.

    Christmas Day – In most countries Christmas Day is on the 25th of December, but it is in January in some countries and churches, often around the 7th of January. It is the most important day of the Christmas holiday in most countries. However, in some countries the CHRISTMAS PRESENTS and/ or CHRISTMAS DINNER are on other days such as CHRISTMAS EVE. On Christmas Day in the UK almost no shops are open and there is no public transport.

    Christmas decorations – Things that are put up in houses, shops etc to celebrate Xmas. They include a CHRISTMAS TREE, TINSEL and BAUBLES

    Christmas dinner – The main meal on CHRISTMAS DAY, usually a late lunch and usually a ROAST in the UK and USA.

    Christmas Eve – “Eve” means “just before”, so Christmas Eve is the day before Xmas, meaning the 24th of December in most countries.

    Christmas food – Xmas comes in the middle of the European winter, so Xmas foods are often based around ingredients that were preserved earlier in the year (e.g. MINCEMEAT), ingredients that last a long time (nuts, dried fruit like raisins and dates), and winter vegetables (potatoes, PARSNIPS etc). The dishes are also often things that can be used over the length of the Xmas holiday without going off (CHRISTMAS PUDDING, CHRISTMAS CAKE, etc)

    Christmas lights – Sometimes used to include FAIRY LIGHTS, but more often meaning lights that are hung outside, e.g. on the outside of people’s houses and in shopping streets such as Oxford Street in London.

    Christmas log – A chocolate cake in the shape of a piece of wood, often decorated to look even more like wood. Its origins lie in the traditional YULE LOG.

    Christmas party – The most common kind of Xmas party in the UK is an office party actually held in the normal working space, as in the TV series The Office. It is also traditional for at least one person to get very drunk and kiss someone else, photocopy their bottom and/ or say something really rude to someone such as their boss.

    Christmas presents – Gifts given around CHRISTMAS DAY. The two traditions of Xmas presents are to put them in CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS and under the CHRISTMAS TREE. Usually everyone in the family buys presents for everyone else.

    Christmas pudding – A very dark, rich and heavy steamed pudding made with lots of dried fruit, often eaten hot with BRANDY SAUCE. Traditionally a coin is hidden somewhere in the pudding and finding it in your portion is good luck.

    Christmas service – This usually means a church service on CHRISTMAS DAY, e.g. a MIDNIGHT MASS, but could also mean a CAROL SERVICE before Xmas.

    Christmas songs – Song such a RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER and Frosty the Snowman. Christmas songs usually means ones that are too modern or secular to be considered CHRISTMAS CAROLS.

    Christmas stocking – A large sock (so not actually a stocking) which Xmas presents are put into, usually red with Xmas patterns on it but sometimes just a normal sock. Usually hung on the foot of children’s beds or on the FIREPLACE.

    Christmas story (a/ the) – The Xmas story is the story in the Bible about the birth of Christ, including the STAR, THREE WISE MEN, MANGER, SHEPHERD, etc. A Xmas story includes A CHRISTMAS CAROL (the story of SCROOGE) and other stories based around this time of year.

    Christmas tree – An evergreen tree, often a fir, that is put up inside or outside the house at around Xmas time, and usually covered with CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS with a fairy, STAR or angel right at the top. CHRISTMAS PRESENTS are usually put under it. Christmas trees can be real or made from plastic.

    Countdown – Counting down from 10 to 1 as midnight on NEW YEAR’S EVE approaches. The second when the New Year starts is usually marked by kissing, hugging, toasts, cheering, PARTY POPPERS, shouting “Happy New Year”, listening to the chimes of BIG BEN, and a verse or two of the song AULD LANG’S SYNE.

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    Christmas log – A chocolate cake in the shape of a piece of wood, often decorated to look even more like wood. Its origins lie in the traditional YULE LOG.
    Maybe it's regional, but I'd say Yuletide log.

  3. #3
    Alex Case is offline Site Contributor
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    Thanks. Will double check that one when I get to Y.

    Just realised I forgot "cracker"!

  4. #4
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    Ouisch is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    Will it be explained (or is it understood?) that your list is chiefly BrE, and many of the items on your list are limited to holiday practices in the UK?

    For example, in the US "Christmas pudding" has no particular meaning. Nor does Boxing Day (although it is a holiday for our neighbors to the north in Canada). Instead of "baubles," we call the decorations hung on Christmas trees "ornaments." The term "fairy lights" would be met with giggles in the US (we'd think of literal fairies like Tinkerbell); Christmas lights (or Christmas tree lights) is our generic term for strings of decorative lights, no matter what time of year they're used.

    Also, Christmas dinner in the US is traditionally either a turkey or ham, not a "roast" (which suggests "roast beef" in AmE). Quite often the fare served at Christmas dinner is similar to that of a Thanksgiving or Easter meal.

    One last correction (sorry to be so picky) - it's "Auld Lang Syne" (not Auld Lang's Syne)>

  5. #5
    Alex Case is offline Site Contributor
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    Hi Ouisch

    If at all possible I'd like to cover everywhere, so please keep the American corrections coming!

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    I don't know how serious your 'dictionary' is meant to be. What you have produced so far is, undoubtedly, well-intentioned. It is also quite helpful to people who do not know the expressions you have dealt with. To call it a dictionary, however, is to suggest to readers that it has an authority which, regrettably, it does not have.Some comments below.
    Baubles – Things that hang off the CHRISTMAS TREE to make it more colourful. Sounds dated to me; 'baubles', I mean.

    Boxing Day – The day after Christmas. No one really knows why it is called Boxing Day, but theories include boxes of good being given to servants. Well, that is generally believed.

    Boxing Day Bank Holiday – A bank holiday is a public holiday in Britain, usually on a Monday. If Christmas Day or Boxing Day are at the weekend when people are usually on holiday anyway, they get an extra day’s holiday just after. Fine, except that no speakers of BrE that I know of refer to 'Boxing Day Bank Holiday'. We know that Boxing Day (or the first work day after it) is a bank holiday; we don't need to refer to it as such.

    Carolling – Singing CHRISTMAS CAROLS outside people’s houses, nowadays usually to collect money for charity but traditionally to be offered food and drink by the people who live there. I haven't heard the word used in my lifetime (60+ years) without 'Christmas' coming immediately before it.

    Chimney – The part of the house where the smoke from the fires comes from. FATHER CHRISTMAS is supposed to come down the chimney to deliver the presents, which is why the CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS are usually hung on the FIREPLACE. Yes, except that many British children hang their stockings at the end of their beds..

    Christmas dinner – The main meal on CHRISTMAS DAY, usually a late lunch and usually a ROAST in the UK and USA. Ouisch noted that 'roast' suggests'roast beef' in AmE. It does so in BrE also.

  7. #7
    Alex Case is offline Site Contributor
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    Thanks for all your feedback Johnson. I'm still toying with "An EFL A to Z of Christmas and the New Year" as the final name for this, but "dictionary" is almost certainly more Google-friendly. As to the authority, hopefully I will have more of it by the time I've incorporated everyone's feedback in the final version. I've only spent two Xmases at home in the last ten years, so my own knowledge is a bit rusty...



    Baubles – Things that hang off the CHRISTMAS TREE to make it more colourful. Sounds dated to me; 'baubles', I mean. - I thought the same thing as I was writing it. What do we call those shiny ball things nowadays then??

    Boxing Day – The day after Christmas. No one really knows why it is called Boxing Day, but theories include boxes of good being given to servants. Well, that is generally believed.- ??

    Boxing Day Bank Holiday – A bank holiday is a public holiday in Britain, usually on a Monday. If Christmas Day or Boxing Day are at the weekend when people are usually on holiday anyway, they get an extra day’s holiday just after. Fine, except that no speakers of BrE that I know of refer to 'Boxing Day Bank Holiday'. We know that Boxing Day (or the first work day after it) is a bank holiday; we don't need to refer to it as such. - But if the 26th is a Sunday, that is still Boxing Day (what else would it be called?) So, how can we distinguish between that and the 27th, when it isn't the day after Xmas but is a holiday? I'm pretty sure Boxing Day Bank Holiday is the official way of referring to it

    Carolling – Singing CHRISTMAS CAROLS outside people’s houses, nowadays usually to collect money for charity but traditionally to be offered food and drink by the people who live there. I haven't heard the word used in my lifetime (60+ years) without 'Christmas' coming immediately before it. - Good point

    Chimney – The part of the house where the smoke from the fires comes from. FATHER CHRISTMAS is supposed to come down the chimney to deliver the presents, which is why the CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS are usually hung on the FIREPLACE. Yes, except that many British children hang their stockings at the end of their beds.. - That is already mentioned in the Christmas Stockings entry

    Christmas dinner – The main meal on CHRISTMAS DAY, usually a late lunch and usually a ROAST in the UK and USA. Ouisch noted that 'roast' suggests'roast beef' in AmE. It does so in BrE also. - This will be explained in more detail in the Roast entry, but to me (British) a Sunday roast could just as easily be a roast chicken or gammon as beef. How else would you refer to a dinner with roast chicken and roast potatoes, for example?

  8. #8
    Alex Case is offline Site Contributor
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    I'd also be interested to hear from non-native speakers which of my definitions aren't very clear or understandable.

    A few questions about American stuff so that I can even the post out a little bit more that way:
    - Are there any differences between Xmas dinner and Thanksgiving dinner?
    - What are traditional desserts? Pumpkin pie?

  9. #9
    Alex Case is offline Site Contributor
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C


  10. #10
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    Default Re: Christmas and New Year dictionary/ encyclopedia Part One - A to C

    But if the 26th is a Sunday, that is still Boxing Day (what else would it be called?) So, how can we distinguish between that and the 27th, when it isn't the day after Xmas but is a holiday? I'm pretty sure Boxing Day Bank Holiday is the official way of referring to it. Sorry, you may be right.

    Christmas dinner – The main meal on CHRISTMAS DAY, usually a late lunch and usually a ROAST in the UK and USA. Ouisch noted that 'roast' suggests'roast beef' in AmE. It does so in BrE also. - This will be explained in more detail in the Roast entry, but to me (British) a Sunday roast could just as easily be a roast chicken or gammon as beef. How else would you refer to a dinner with roast chicken and roast potatoes, for example?
    I was probably too specific, and you are almost certainly right on your last point. I still don't think we call our Christmas dinner just 'a roast.' For most families it is still roast turkey, and I think we refer to it as that, or possibly just as 'turkey', knowing that it is a roast turkey.

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