’Tis The Season For Explaining Common Holiday Phrases

Season’s greetings

This season, you’ll give and receive countless holiday greetings. Whether you’re sending cards, posting on social media, or delivering good wishes in person, you’ll want to brush up on your handy holiday phrases.

Over recent years, most Americans have become more sensitive to the fact that not everyone is Christian, and that there are several other holidays that fall during December, including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice.

So, as the United States becomes more religiously and culturally inclusive, the broad salutations season’s greetings and happy holidays have gained popularity.

Want to stand out this holiday? Why not use these inviting holiday phrases—from the common to the lesser-known—to express joy and happiness … or maybe that holiday negativity you’re feeling, too.

'Tis the season

‘Tis the season might be one of the most popular holiday phrases for which nobody knows its actual meaning! Well, it’s an old—very old—contraction of it is. The apostrophe replaces the i in the word it to create ’tis. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the contraction ’tis was a fan favorite in the early 1700s. At this time, it was most likely used more often than it’s. So, take a trip back in time and use this phrase to really rile up the holiday spirit.

WATCH: 'Tis the Season To Learn More About 'Tis

Check out this article on why we say “‘Tis the season.”

Bah, humbug!

A humbug is something intended to deceive and mislead, or someone who behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way. But most often, bah, humbug! is used to express disgust for the Christmas season. The expression was made famous by the fictional, mean-spirited character Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. So, if you’re feeling those holiday blues, this may be just the way to express it.

Deck the halls

If someone says, “It’s time to deck the halls,” you’re about to get roped into putting up holiday decorations. In this context, deck means “decorate.” The phrase comes from a traditional yuletide carol that dates back to the 1500s. Quite literally, decorating halls with branches from a holly tree was an old tradition. Very rustic, no?

Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle

Tinsel are the thin strips of shiny metal foil used to bedazzle for the holidays. And, yes, tinsel can get tangled, or twisted into a messy ball of doom. The expression don’t get your tinsel in a tangle seems to be the holiday version of “Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” an idiom for keeping your composure under stress. Show that tinsel who’s boss … the holidays are almost over, right?

Meet me under the mistletoe

This adorable kissing tradition may date back to the ancient Roman winter festival Saturnalia. In Victorian times, kissing under the mistletoe was associated with a marriage proposal. The phrase meet me under the mistletoe refers to this kissing custom—just hang a branch somewhere handy and if two adults come within range, they smooch. Don’t want to leave it to chance? Then say, “meet me under the mistletoe” to ensure you get some of that holiday lovin’.

Christmas comes but once a year

The proverb Christmas comes but once a year may be Christmas-themed but acts as a general reminder that the holidays are a special time that should be cherished. Beyond the spirit of generosity, the phrase is also used as an excuse for overindulgence, whether that means forgetting your diet and splurging on food or spending excessively on gifts. So, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you can whip this one out as you go for seconds (or thirds) at dinner.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

Jack Frost nipping at your nose means “it’s blistering cold outside.” Jack Frost comes from the ancient Norse figure Jokul Frosti, a wicked frost giant who served as the personification of ice and snow. In a more romantic context, the expression is featured in the classic “The Christmas Song,” sung by Nat King Cole. So cuddle up and watch that snow fall because it’s nicer to think about Jack Frost nipping at your nose than to actually be outside experiencing it.

Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth. What’s a better holiday phrase than that? Reading it just makes us feel relaxed and happy. If you want to boost the mood of your grouchy uncle or grandmother during the holidays, give this phrase a shot. What’s the worst that could happen, a bah, humbug?

Ring in the New Year

When we ring in the New Year, we celebrate the end of the previous year and the beginning of the next with a boisterous celebration. Some might say bring in the New Year, but ring comes from the custom of tolling church bells to mark the occasion. And, after all that ringing, don’t forget about that resolution …

Auld Lang Syne

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?”

We all have heard this song at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. But, what does it mean? Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem written in 1788 by Robert Burns. It was set to the tune of a traditional folk song. Auld means “old,” and syne means “since or then.” The phrase translates to old long since, and basically means “days gone by.” It asks the rhetorical question: “Should old times be forgotten?” The answer: taking “a cup o’ kindness,” which might be in order to remind us all to cherish those bittersweet memories. There’s always next year!

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