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Christmas Idioms, Phrases, and Sayings

Christmas is coming! Enjoy a few of the most popular Christmas idioms and other holiday-related phrases and sayings. For students or teachers interested in word origins, this also includes extra information, photos and videos.

Christmas idioms, phrases and sayings

Bah! Humbug!

Meaning: first used by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, this is sometimes said by people who aren’t fans of Christmas when confronted with holiday well-wishers. Example: Watch Scrooge in the video below.

Beat the holiday blues

Meaning: to overcome the stress and frustration resulting from holiday preparation or resulting from he need to get back to your usual routine after a holiday. Example: When I want to beat the holiday blues I always think about the fact that soon it will be over.

Be my guest

Meaning: Help yourself.; After you. (A polite way of indicating that someone else should go first, help himself or herself to something, or take the last one of something.)

Examples: Mary: I would just love to have some more cake, but there is only one piece left.

Sally: Be my guest.

Mary: Wow! Thanks!

Jane: Here's the door. Who should go in first?

Bill: Be my guest. I'll wait out here.

Jane: You're so polite!

Be no angel

Meaning: sometimes behave badly Example: He's no angel but he can't be blamed for everything that has happened.

Be there with bells on

Meaning: said in response to an invitation and meaning you will happily go.

Example: Mom, will you come to my Christmas play at school? Of course, I will be there with bells on.

Christmas came early (this year)

Meaning: when someone receives some unexpected good news. Example: Did you hear that Jose got a job? Christmas came early this year for his family.

Christmas comes but once a year

Meaning: Recently, this has become an excuse for gorging on holiday cookies or spending too much on presents, but this proverb quietly states that people need to be kind to each other year-round rather than just during the holidays. Example: Alex do you want another piece of pie? Sure, why not? Christmas comes but once a year.

Cold turkey

Meaning: nothing to do with eating leftovers from Christmas dinner but the sudden and complete withdrawal from an addictive substance.

Example: He stopped drinking cold turkey.

Deck the halls

Meaning: “Decking” or decorating the halls with branches from a holly tree is an old tradition, and the popular carol began as a Welsh tune from the 1700s. These days, merry-makers deck their halls with blinking lights, pine branches, popcorn strung on strands of thread, and glittery garland. Example: See song under "Tis the Season to be jolly".

Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle Meaning: don’t get stressed out trying to make Christmas perfect

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

Meaning: If you receive a gift, do so graciously, without voicing criticisms. The saying is attributed to St. Jerome and refers to the practice of looking at a horse's teeth to determine its age.

Example: I know Aunt Jean isn't your favorite person, but she gave you that beautiful sweater as a present, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth!

A: "But I don't want this ancient car!"

B:"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, OK? You're so lucky to get a car for free!"

Good things come in small packages

Meaning: a present should not be judged by its size, because sometimes the smallest gifts are the best. Example: At first I was saddened by the size of my gift, but I thought to myself that good things come in small packages. I was not mistaken, because inside there were keys to a new car!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

These are the words of Santa Claus. Santa Claus is the personification of the spirit of Christmas, usually represented as a jolly fat old man with a white beard and a red suit, who brings gifts to good children on Christmas Eve. Meaning: Santa Claus' expression to express joy and laughter. Example: Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas.

Holiday spirit

Meaning: excitement about the holiday. Taking part in traditions, visiting people, caring for others, creating surprises, and planning or attending parties and get-togethers are all ways to share the spirit and joy of the holidays.

Example: December isn’t here yet and I’m already feeling the holiday spirit.

It’s the thought that counts

Meaning: used to indicate that it is the kindness behind an act that matters, however imperfect or insignificant the act may be.

Example: "when people give you things that you don't want, you must remember that it's the thought that counts"

Like turkeys voting for (an early) Christmas

Meaning: when people choose to accept a situation that can only end badly for them (as turkeys are traditionally eaten at Christmas)

Lit up like a Christmas tree

Meaning: Phrase commonly used in the military for blowing the hell out of an enemy position. Plenty of bombs, missles, bullets etc.

Example: They need to go into North Korea and light it up like a christmas tree.

Meet me under the Mistletoe

Meaning: European mistletoe is a shrub with yellow flowers and white, poisonous berries. The tradition of kissing under a hanging sprig of this plant began in 16th century England, but it was not connected to holiday tradition until the 18th century. In 1820, American author Washington Irving wrote, “–the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.”

Snowball Effect

Meaning: a situation in which one action or event causes many other similar actions or events.

Example: Did she stop to think for a second how her decision had a snowball effect? The city hopes that these improvements will have a snowball effect and spur private investment in the community.

Snowed Under

Meaning: Very busy or overwhelmed with something. This phrase evokes the image of being buried under an avalanche.

Example: I'd love to go out to dinner tonight, but I'm totally snowed under at the office right now.

Kate's not coming tonight because she's snowed under with research for her thesis.

Stocking stuffer

Meaning: A small present, especially one that is placed in a stocking at Christmas.

Example: Mary went to the store today to look for some stocking stuffers for the children.

The more the merrier

Meaning: The larger the number involved, the better the occasion.

Example: John's invited all his family to come along, and why not? The more the merrier.

History: This expression was first recorded in 1530, when it was put as "The more the merrier;the fewer, the better fare" (meaning "with fewer there would be more to eat"), an observation that made its way intonumerous proverb collections.Example: Can I bring my girlfriend to the holiday party? Sure, the more the merrier.

The proof of the pudding (is in the eating)

Meaning: the end result is the mark of the success or failure of one’s efforts or planning. The phrase may also be used in the past and future tenses: the proof will be/was in the pudding. Example: I guess the proof will be in the pudding when we see how we react to it all, but we’re excited about what happened.” [Los Angeles Times]

There's no place like home for the holidays

Another favorite carol came out of the sentiment that the best place to celebrate the holidays is with the family. College students return to their parents’ home, and extended families descend on a pre-planned relative for festive celebration and gift-giving. Example: See song below/

There’s no time like the present

Meaning: a reminder that there are things in our lives we can take charge of and accomplish with a little hard work. Example: There's no time like the present to travel to Spain.

There's no time like the present

The stockings were hung by the chimney

From "The night before Christmas" poem. Meaning: Children hang their stockings on the chimney mantel for Santa Claus to put in small presents, candy and fruit. The actual origin is uncertain, but hundreds of years ago, children dried damp socks by hanging them overnight from the fireplace mantle. At some point, a benevolent stranger, saint, or parent slipped some gifts into these stockings, and it is now an inseparable tradition. Holiday stockings are filled with small presents and fruit, such as apples and oranges, though naughty children may receive only a chunk of coal. Example: The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicklaus soon would be there.

The stockings were hung by the chimney

‘Tis the season to be jolly

“‘Tis” is an old method of contracting “it” and “is.” Today, it is rarely used in anything but traditional song or poetry, such as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” or “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. This usage is abbreviated from a line in a holiday carol: “‘Tis the season to be jolly.” The word “jolly” is also old and simply means “happy.” Example: See song below

Trim the tree

Meaning: Nothing to do with cutting, this is an old reference to decorating a pine tree with ornaments, lights and other glittery bits. Example: At Christmas, the whole family helps trim the tree.

Trim the tree

White Christmas

Meaning: a Christmas with snow. The prettiest holiday, according to most, is one where it has snowed. This wish for white was celebrated many years ago in a popular song, and the title of this carol is now a traditional holiday phrase. Example: In Texas seldom do we get a white Christmas. Listen to song below.

Written in the stars

Meaning: If you believe that something is written in the stars, you believe that it will be made to happen by a force that controls the future.

Example: It was written in the stars that they would meet and fall in love.

This is a collection of Christmas idioms for ESL learners. Are there any other seasonal idioms or sayings that you’d care to add? Join Learn It Town to practice your Christmas Idioms with teachers and students from around the world.

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