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English Language Vocabulary: Christmas

Christmas is the annual Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Celebrated on December 25, Christmas is both a religious and a secular holiday in the United States. English language learners who wish to participate fully in American culture must learn the vocabulary to talk about the holiday. The following sections provide the most important vocabulary for talking about Christmas.

Religious Christmas Vocabulary

Christmas was originally a religious holiday within the Christian religion. Some religious Christmas vocabulary includes the following:

  • Advent – the ecclesiastical season immediately preceding Christmas
  • Bethlehem – the small town in the Middle East believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ
  • Christmas – the annual Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ held on December 25
  • Christmas Eve – the day before Christmas, December 24
  • Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi
  • Jesus – the name of Christ, the central figure of Christianity
  • Joseph – husband to Mary (mother of Jesus)
  • Mary – mother of Jesus
  • Nativity – birth of Jesus Christ
  • star of Bethlehem – the star that announced the birth of Jesus and guided the Three Wise Men

Christmas Season Vocabulary

In the United States as well as throughout the world, Christmas is also a secular holiday. Other Christmas season vocabulary for talking about the holiday includes the following:

  • angel – a ministering spirit or divine messenger
  • bell – a hollow object typically made of metal and having the shape of a deep inverted cup widening at the lip that sounds a clear musical note when struck typically by means of a clapper inside
  • candle – a source of artificial light consisting of a body of wax formed round a wick
  • card – a paper greeting sent to family and friends
  • carol – a religious song or popular hymn
  • chimney – a passage or flue by which the smoke from a fire or furnace ascends and escapes
  • Christmas tree – an evergreen decorated with lights and ornaments
  • decoration – embellishment, adornment, ornamentation
  • elf – a supernatural creature of folk tales typically represented as a small, elusive figure in human form with pointed ears, magical powers, and a capricious nature
  • Father Christmas – Santa Claus, the legendary patron saint of children, a mythical character who delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve
  • fireplace – a grate or hearth at the base of a chimney in which a fire burns
  • frankincense – an aromatic gum resin obtained from an African tree and burned as incense, one of the gifts given to Jesus by the Three Wise Men
  • garland – a decoration strand of flowers and leaves
  • gift – a thing given willingly to someone without payment, a present
  • gold – a yellow precious metal, one of the gifts given to Jesus by the Three Wise Men
  • Grinch – a person who is mean-spirited and unfriendly
  • holly – an evergreen plant with prickly dark green leaves and red berries
  • icicle – a hanging, tapering piece of ice formed by the freezing of dripping water
  • ivy – a woody evergreen Eurasian climbing plant typically having shiny, dark green five-pointed leaves
  • jolly – happy and cheerful
  • lights – electric bulbs that give off a visual glow
  • magi – member of a priestly caste of ancient Persia, the Three Wise Men
  • merry – cheerful and lively
  • mistletoe – a parasitic plant with white berries traditionally used as a Christmas decoration
  • myrrh – a fragrant gum resin obtained from certain trees and used in perfumery, medicines, and incense; one of the gifts given to Jesus by the Three Wise Men
  • Noel – Christmas
  • North Pole – home of Santa Claus
  • ornament – a thing used to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose, a decoration
  • poinsettia – a small Mexican shrub with large showy scarlet bracts surrounding the small yellow flowers popular as a houseplant at Christmas
  • present – a thing given willingly to someone without payment, a gift
  • reindeer – a deer with large antlers found in some cold climates and believed to pull the sleigh for Santa Claus
  • Santa Claus – Father Christmas, a mythical character who delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve, traditionally an old man with a red suit and white beard who lives at the North Pole
  • shepherd – a person who looks after sheep
  • sled – a sleigh drawn by horses or reindeer
  • sleigh – a sled drawn by horses or reindeer
  • snow – frozen water vapor from the sky that falls as white flakes and covers the ground
  • snowman – a representation of a human figure created with compressed snow
  • star – a fixed luminous point in the night sky that is a large, remote incandescent body like the sun
  • stocking – a close-fitting garment covering the foot and the leg that is hung from the mantel of a fireplace on Christmas Eve
  • tinsel – a form of decoration consisting of thin strips of shiny metal foil
  • white Christmas – a Christmas with snow on the ground
  • wreath – an arrangement of flowers, leaves, or stems fastened in a ring and used for decoration or for laying on a grave
  • Xmas – abbreviation or informal term for Christmas
  • Yule log – a large log traditionally burned in the fireplace on Christmas Eve
  • Yuletide – an archaic term for Christmas

Christmas Food Vocabulary

Food is a huge part of the Christmas holiday season. Some popular foods served during Christmastime include:

  • berry – a small round fruit
  • candy cane – a cylindrical stick of striped, sweet candy with a curved end resembling a walking stick
  • clove – the dried flower bud of a tropical tree used as a pungent aromatic spice
  • coal – a combustible black or dark brown rock given to naughty children on Christmas
  • cookie – a small sweet cake, typically round and flat
  • cranberries – a tart berry served whole or as a jelly
  • deviled eggs – hardboiled eggs in which the cooked yolk is seasoned
  • dressing – another word for stuffing
  • duck – a waterbird served as the main course of Christmas dinner
  • eggnog – a traditional Christmas drink made of alcohol with beaten eggs and milk
  • fruitcake – a cake containing dried fruit and nuts
  • gingerbread – a cake-like cookie made with molasses and flavored with ginger
  • goose – a large waterbird with a long neck served as the main course of Christmas dinner
  • gravy – a fatty sauce used on turkey, potatoes, and bread
  • green beans – beans that are green which are often served as a casserole
  • ham – pork served as the main course of Christmas dinner
  • mash potatoes – cooked potatoes that have been mashed and seasoned
  • nut – a fruit consisting of a hard or tough shell around an edible kernel
  • nutmeg – the hard, aromatic, almost spherical seed of a tropical tree
  • pecan pie – a pie made from pecans and a sugary filling
  • pumpkin pie – a pie made from mashed pumpkin and spices
  • stuffing – a mixture of seasoned ingredients (usually breadcrumbs or cornmeal) served as a side dish
  • sweet potatoes – orange potatoes with a sweet taste that are often served with brown sugar or marshmallows
  • sweet potato pie – a pie made from mashed sweet potato and spices
  • turkey – a large bird served as the main course of Christmas dinner
  • yam – another name for the sweet potato in the United States

By learning the vocabulary for the holiday, speakers of English as a second language can participate more fully in the Christmas season in the United States.

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