See also: our list of 'Christmas Card Sayings and Expressions'.
Posted by Word Camel on December 24, 2004
In Reply to: Christmas words and phrases posted by ESC on December 23, 2004
: This is a rerun. But what the heck. Anyone have any Christmas (or other holiday of your choice)phrases to add?
: CHRISTMAS - "Christmas. n. 1100 'Cristesmessa,' literally, Christ's festival, Christmas Day, found in Old English 'Cristes maesse' (Cristes genitive of 'Crist' Christ and 'maesse' festival, feast day..." From "The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology: The Origins of American English Words" by Robert K. Barnhart.
: CHRISTMAS CARDS -- "The tradition of sending Christmas cards originated in the mid-1800s when a few people began to design handmade cards to send to family and friends. A man named John Calcott Horsely is credited as being the first to actually print Christmas cards. The card depicted a family enjoying the holiday, with scenes of people performing acts of charity. The card was inscribed: "Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You" From "Origin of Traditions" at http://www.picklejar.com Accessed Dec. 4, 2001.
: CHRISTMAS GIFT! - "A greeting used on Christmas morning, with the first person saying it traditionally receiving a gift. The custom, which has been traced back to as early as 1844, is no longer observed but 'Christmas gift!', which used to be a far more popular Christmas greeting than 'Merry Christmas!' is still heard among older people." From "Whistlin' Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions" by Robert Hendrickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1993).
: CHRISTMAS PIZZA - The favorite of Good King Wenceslas -- pizza that is "deep-pan, crisp and even."
: EPIPHANY - "January 6 is known in western Christian tradition as Epiphany. It goes by other names in various church traditions. In Hispanic and Latin culture, as well as some places in Europe, it is known as Three Kings' Day.Because of differences in church calendars, mainly between the Eastern Orthodox and the western Catholic and Protestant traditions, both Christmas and Epiphany have been observed at different times in the past.Epiphany is the climax of the Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are counted from December 25th until January 5th. The day before Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, and is sometimes called Twelfth Night, an occasion for feasting in some cultures.The term epiphany means to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King." From the Christian Resource Institute online at http://www.cresourcei.org/cyepiph.html Accessed December 18, 2003.
: GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN - "First of all, 'God rest you merry, gentlemen' is correct, not 'God rest you, merry gentlemen.' The verb 'rest' is used here in the way now most familiar from the phrase 'rest assured.' In earlier English it was used with a variety of other complements: the OED has 'rest thee merry' from 1400; 'rest you well' from 1420; 'God rest you merry,' 'rest you fair.' and 'rest you happy,' and 'rest myself content' from Shakespeare; 'rest thee tranquil' from Shelley, and 'rest thee sure' from Tennyson." From "God rest you merry, gentlemen," an online article by Mark Israel. The rest of the article is at: http://alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxgodres.html Accessed November 29, 2004.
: GOD SPEED THE PLOUGH; PLOUGH MONDAY -- "God speed the plough, 'a wish for success or prosperity,' was originally a phrase in a 15th-century song sung by ploughmen on Plough Monday; the first Monday after the Twelfth Day, which is the end of the Christmas holidays, when farm laborers returned to the plough, soliciting 'plough money' to spend in celebration." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)
: HARD CANDY CHRISTMAS -- A bleak Christmas. One where the family is so low on money that everyone gets hard candy for Christmas instead of gifts. The phrase is the title of a song written by Carol Hall and sung by Dolly Parton: "Lord it's like a hard candy Christmas.I'm barely getting through tomorrow.But still I won't let Sorrow bring me way down.I'll be fine and dandy."
: MERRY CHRISTMAS -- "Merrie England. England of the Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle Ages was not a very happy place to be, let alone 'merrie.' So why this phrase indicating revelry and joyous spirits, as if England were one perpetual Christmastime? The answer is that the word 'merrie' originally meant merely 'pleasing and delightful,' not bubbling over with festive spirits, as it does today. The same earlier meaning is found in the famous expression, 'the merry month of May.'" From the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, second edition, 1977). In "A Royal Duty" Paul Burrell says the Queen prefers "Happy Christmas" because she believes "Merry Christmas" implies drunkenness. Here's a site that has ways to say Merry Christmas in several languages -- http://melekalikimaka.com/Saymerry.htm Accessed December 18, 2003. Norwegian Christmas words are at http://www.sofn.com/norwegianculture/languagelessons/Lesson15.html
: OLD CHRISTMAS -- An old-fashioned name for January 6 or Epiphany (following the Twelve Days of Christmas: Dec. 25 - Jan. 5). From "Mountain Range: A Dictionary of Expressions from Appalachia to the Ozarks" by Robert Hendrickson (Volume IV, Facts on File Dictionary of American Regional Expressions, Facts on File, New York, N.Y.,1997). Online sources say other names for this day are "Little Christmas" and "Three Kings Day." See Epiphany.
: RE-GIFTING -- The practice of giving a gift you've received to someone else. Considered bad form. From the "Seinfield primer" by Thomas Nord, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky, Wednesday, September 5, 2001.
: SHOPPING DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS - American retailer H. Gordon Selfridge (1856-1947) coined this expression - " __ shopping days until Christmas" while working for Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago. Later he coined the slogan "the customer is always right" when he opened Selfridge's in London. From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).
: TWELFTH NIGHT - See Epiphany.
: XMAS - "The X abbreviation of 'Xmas' for 'Christmas' is neither modern nor disrespectful. The notion that it is a new and vulgar representation of the word 'Christmas' seems to stem from the erroneous belief that the letter 'X' is used to stand for the word 'Christ' because of its resemblance to a cross, or that the abbreviation was deliberately concocted "to take the 'Christ' out of Christmas." Actually, this usage is nearly as old as Christianity itself, and its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for 'Christ' is 'chi,' and the Greek letter 'chi' is represented by a symbol similar to the letter 'X' in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence 'Xmas' is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word 'Christmas' (just as 'Xian' is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word 'Christian'). None of this means that Christians (and others) aren't justified in feeling slighted when people write 'Xmas' rather than 'Christmas,' but the point is that the abbreviation was not created specifically for the purpose of demeaning Christ, Christians, Christianity, or Christmas -- it's a very old artifact of a very different language." From the snopes.com Urban Legends site. Snopes has a Christmas page that includes information about the history behind The Three Wise Men, Rudolph, candy canes, the Twelve Days of Christmas and other Christmas words and phrases. http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/christmas.asp?music=off Accessed December 18, 2003.
It occured to me that there are a great number of birds mentioned in the Twelve Days of Christmas. There are twenty-six, in fact(taking into account that the five golden rings are reputed to be ring nicekd pheasants). So I decided to figure out why. I didn't find the answer, but I did find and alternative origin to the one mentioned on Snopes. According to Snopes teh lyric was first published in 1780 but was probably around for an age before it was written down and that it was probably originally French. Lisa Shea, the birding editor of BellaOnline, ("The Voice of Women", allegedly), claims that it was an English drinking song.
Both Shea and Snopes say that the "four calling birds" are in fact, four "colle" birds, better known as blackbirds. These were usually baked into pies. I checked and there do seem to be many recipes for blackbird pie and some specifically served for Christmas meals.
All of this seems plausible to me but I'm thinking that if the song does have its origins in France, there's probably some sort of French version out there, one that dates prior prior to the publication of the lyric in English. If so, is it basically the same?
Sadly my French is still at the stage where "I am seeing him tonight", when I will ask him "if he would like to dine with me at the restaurant" because it is "very important for me." Are there any French speakers who could have a quick look to see if the song exists in French? If it still does, how does it differ?
As for the question of why there are so many birds in the song I'm guessing the intention was that they be eaten. Which begs the question about why the song suddently switches to human beings? I know it's a pagan holiday, but I'm guessing it's not *that* pagan.
Ps. I was crushed to see that Snopes disputes Ring around the Rosie's origins in the black plague. Perhaps we ought to revisit that one?
Ps. Happy/Merry Christmas to all, and a brilliant 2005 too.