7 Classic Christmas Sayings and Where They Came From

Tuesday, December 172 min read

There are so many opportunities to greet people with joy and happiness during the Christmas season. If someone celebrates the same holiday as you, you can honor them with sentiments of that holiday. And if they don't celebrate Christmas, you can still embrace the generosity of the season.

Here are seven classic Christmas sayings and their origin stories.

‘Tis the season

For such a common saying, it’s easy to forget just how old it is. "'Tis" is a contraction for “it is,” and was popular in everyday speech in the 1700s. So, if you want to make the holiday season a little more genteel and old fashioned, this phrase would definitely work.

Season’s greetings

This salutation is more modern. As Americans have become more inclusive and understanding of the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas, phrases like “season’s greetings” have become increasingly popular. When you’re in an environment where people might be celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Winter Solstice, this is a welcome acknowledgment. Although it doesn’t have a storied past, it holds an important place in the holiday seasons of the present and the future.

Deck the halls

Some of our favorite holiday sentiments come from carols. In the 1500s, when this classic song came about, "deck" meant to decorate. Original Christmas decorating wasn’t done with lights or tinsel, but with literal branches of pine and holly. Hence the lyric, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly.” (Bet you sang that in your head.)

Peace on earth, goodwill to men

If you want to focus on the religious aspects of Christmas, this is the greeting for you. The phrase “peace on earth, goodwill to men” comes from the Bible, when a group of angels tells some shepherds about the birth of Jesus. The saying can still be used as an inclusive wish for the season, but it’s the most righteous phrase on this list.

Auld lang syne

We’re not looking at English here, but most people still have a general sense of this turn of phrase. It was written in a Scots-language poem by Robert Burns in 1788 and means something like days gone by, or for the sake of old times. It’s most often sung on New Year’s Eve when you’re saying goodbye to the old year and welcoming in the new. It’s bittersweet — exactly how one tends to feel about the passage of time (except maybe in 2020).

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night

This line comes from the famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” written by Clement Clarke Moore in the early 1820s. The poem details a visit from Saint Nicholas, telling how he arrives by flying sleigh and comes down the chimney to deliver presents to children. As he flies away, he proclaims, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” The poem remains extremely popular, and the phrase has sunk into our cultural consciousness.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

Here’s a poetic way to say it’s extremely cold outside. The name Jack Frost actually comes from "Jokul Frosti," who was a frost giant out of the Norse tradition and the personification of ice and snow. The actual phrase, “Jack Frost nipping at your nose,” is taken from “The Christmas Song” (commonly known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”), made popular by Nat King Cole.

There you have it! This year, instead of wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas,” try out a few more colorful holiday options.

Feature photo credit: freestocks.org/ Unsplash

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