Hello and Merry Christmas! This episode is probably being released on Christmas eve, so there is no better time to learn some Christmassy words!! Learn some festive themed idioms, phrases, and sayings to boost your Christmas vocabulary!

(If you can’t see the podcast player CLICK HERE to listen!!)

Vocabulary list

Intrinsic (adj) – being an extremely important and basic characteristic of a person or thing

Maths is an intrinsic part of the school curriculum

To associate (v) – to connect someone or something in your mind with someone or something else

Most people associate this brand with good quality

Ecstatic (adj) – extremely happy

The new president was greeted by an ecstatic crowd

Loosely (adv) – not exactly

The film is loosely based on a novel by John Smith

Illogical (adj) – not reasonable, wise, or practical, usually because directed by the emotions rather than by careful thought

It is an illogical statement, because if one part is true, then the other must be false

Insignificant (adj) – small or not noticeable, and therefore not considered important

Why bother arguing about such an insignificant amount of money?

Intention (n) – something that you want and plan to do 

I’ve no intention of changing my plans just to fit in with his

Merry Christmas! This episode should be released on Christmas eve, so I thought it was the perfect time to record a Christmas themed podcast. Christmas is an incredibly important part of my country’s culture, with special food, traditions, and celebrations that only happen at this time of year! We’ve talked before about the relationship between language and culture; how changes in language can affect the culture, and how changes in culture can affect language. I’d recommend listening to the episode on the Oxford Dictionary word of the year which focuses on this idea! Therefore, seeing as Christmas is such an intrinsic part of English culture, our language has changed to reflect this! There are phrases we only use at Christmas, idioms used to describe the winter season, and many expressions for this period. So I think it will be interesting to introduce you to a few of these!! However, remember that I am British. Christmas traditions around the world are different, and so is the language used to describe Christmas and influenced by Christmas! 

A White Christmas

Let’s start with one of the most famous Christmas idioms – A White Christmas! You’ve probably heard this in the famous Christmas song of the same name! It comes from the fact that in much of the Christian world, Christmas takes place in winter and there is the chance it will be snowing! If it snows on Christmas day, it is a white christmas. Many people associate Christmas with snow and winter! This obviously is not true everywhere. It is in the middle of Summer in places like Australia which means Christmas is definitely not white there! In fact, even though I come from a cold country, I have never experienced a white christmas! Moreover, in the UK we can actually place bets on whether it will be a white Christmas because it happens so rarely! Have you ever had a white christmas? 

Christmas came early 

How would you feel if Christmas arrived earlier than usual? I would guess most people would be ecstatic! This is because Christmas is usually a happy holiday, with many people taking time off from work, receiving presents, and eating delicious food. However Christmas is always on 25th December… So when do we use this idiom?? Well, this idiom is used when something really good happens but it was completely unexpected. If you receive an excellent gift in November, maybe you’d say Christmas came early. I once received a job offer in December and felt like Christmas came early that year!

Good things come in small packages

This next saying is a little more loosely related to Christmas. However, it is a phrase we can use at Christmas times, and Christmas is a time where people exchange a lot of gifts or packages, big and small. This idiom tells us not to judge something by its size. When I was a child, I always felt like the biggest present was the best present, but as I grew up I realised that good things can come in small packages! Now, I love books, watches, and socks which are all gifts that come in small packages. Just because a package is small, doesn’t mean it is going to be good or bad. As Christmas is one of the most common times to exchange gifts, it is a useful idiom to remember! Nevertheless, we can use this idiom all year round – short people even use it to describe themselves sometimes.

Deck the halls

This idiom is another from a famous Christmas carol (“Deck the halls with bells of holly”)! To deck the halls means to decorate one’s home with Christmas decorations. Decorating one’s hall with branches from a holly tree is an old tradition, but we now use it to describe all types of decorations! Some people deck the halls and put up a Christmas tree really early, while others wait until Christmas eve to deck their halls! How about you? Have you ever decked your halls for Christmas?

Lit up like a Christmas tree

This is one of the strangest idioms connected to Christmas. What do you think this idiom means? Well, whatever you thought is probably wrong. One of the most common usages of this idiom has nothing to do with decorating a Christmas tree. It is used to describe an intense and violent military attack on enemy positions – lots of bombs, explosions, bullets being used. For example, the US air force lit the city up like a Christmas tree! However, there are some more understandable ways to use this idiom. Apparently, If someone is lit up like a Christmas tree, it means they are overly dressed (although I have never heard this used before)! It can also mean having bright lights!

Like Turkeys Voting for Christmas

You probably know that turkeys are the meat American’s usually eat on Thanksgiving, but what do we eat on Christmas? In England, our Christmas meat is turkey! For most people Christmas is probably the only time a year they eat turkey. So, imagine you were a turkey. Would you vote for, or choose, Christmas? Turkeys are eaten at Christmas. So it would be illogical for turkey’s to vote for Christmas! It is a choice that will only end badly for those turkeys! Therefore, this idiom is used when someone accepts a situation that will have a bad outcome for them! 

It’s the thought that counts

The final idiom I’m going to introduce today is ‘It’s the thought that counts.’ This is such a common phrase that I only recently realised that it is an idiom and difficult for English learners to understand the meaning! This idiom refers to the fact that it’s the kindness behind an act that matters, however imperfect or insignificant it may be. Good or kind intentions are the most important thing, even if what you do or give someone is not perfect. Even when people do things for you and give you things that you don’t actually want, you must always remember that it’s the thought that counts.


On today’ episode I have tried to introduce a few Christmas related idioms and phrases! Some of these, like deck the halls and white Christmas, are only useful at this time of year. Others, such as it’s the thought that counts and good things come in small packages, can be used all year round. Which idiom do you find the most interesting? Which one are you planning on using this Christmas??

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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