Ten Christmas Terms Explained

Do you know where all ten of these Christmas terms came from?

(This essay also appears in my new book Whatever Happened to English? – available on Amazon.)

The Christmas season is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many of us. Just think of the many words we associate only with Christmas. The following ten words are among them.

Advent Candles_31. Advent – Advent is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival” or “the coming.” By the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory I had instituted in the Roman church the practice of conducting a special mass on each of the four Sundays leading up to “the coming” of the Christ-child. Similar to Lent, the season of Advent included fasting and penitence followed by a time of celebration. Eventually, the penitential nature of Advent gave way exclusively to the celebratory nature. Today, Advent is still celebrated in many churches, with each Sunday featuring a different theme, such as the prophecies of Jesus’ birth, the Annunciation to Mary, the visitation of the angels and shepherds, or the gifts of the wise men—with a candle lit for each theme. Continue reading “Ten Christmas Terms Explained”

“Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve

What do the famous lyrics mean?

Auld Lang Syne
“We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

As we ring down the curtain on yet another year, many of us will hear, play, or sing what is sometimes dubbed “the most famous song that nobody knows.” With lyrics traditionally butchered by millions at midnight on New Year’s Eve—”Auld Lang Syne” was the title and key phrase of a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788. The phrase itself had been around for 200 years before Burns’s poem popularized it.

“Auld lang syne” (“syne” can be pronounced either “zine” or “sine”)  translates literally into English as “old long since” and means essentially “days gone by” or “long, long ago.” It’s historically a drinking song—the phrase “we’ll take a cup of kindness” isn’t referring to warm milk—but feel free to enjoy it without alcohol. It suggests reminiscing about good times with old friends and loved ones that we promise never to forget. “Should old acquaintance be forgot?” Never! is the implied answer. The song has five verses, but no one sings—or shall I say attempts to sing—anything but the first verse and the chorus, which follow: Continue reading ““Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve”

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