The Best English Phrases for the Holidays

This is a guest post by Austin Bay. For more English learning resources, check out LinguaLinkDC.

After American children have tucked away their Halloween costumes for the year, the cultural conversation turns toward the holiday season. This is one of many English words Americans use to describe the period from late November until the first of January.

Like other countries, the people of the United States have a particular way of talking about the holidays in English. If you’re an expat living in the United States, then you’ll want to know what to listen for when talking to your friends and coworkers.

Below, we’ve put together fifteen common sayings you’ll hear leading up to the holidays or over the holiday dinner table. You can use these phrases to chime into the conversation or simply to better understand what’s going on around you.

Happy Holidays

This is one of the most common expressions used by Americans and is typically used at the end of a conversation. Instead of saying goodbye or see you later, this English expression brings the time of year into context. You can use this phrase at the end of your sentences to spread holiday cheer!

Example: Before leaving for her parent’s house, she leaned out the window and told her friends, “Happy Holidays!”

Holiday Weekend

In 2016, Christmas Day is on Sunday, December 25th — creating the perfect year to use this English phrase. Holiday weekend refers to any weekend that includes a holiday. It’s common for people to spend the Christmas holiday weekend with their loved ones and reflect on the year that passed.

Example: Our plans for the holiday weekend include playing in the snow and sleeping.

Holiday Shopping

It’s common in American culture for people to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The largest American shopping day is called Black Friday, following Thanksgiving Day, which also ushers in the holiday shopping season.

Example: We need to get all of our holiday shopping done before there is little selection.

Deck the Halls

You might not hear this in everyday conversation, but you won’t have to go far to hear this in a song. This phrase is most commonly heard in the popular American Christmas song, Deck the Halls. This is about decorating your house with holiday décor, like garlands, stockings, and Christmas trees.

Example: We were so busy decking the halls that we forgot to take our homemade bread out of the oven.

Christmas Carols

If English is your second language, then you might be confused by the term Christmas Carols. During the holidays, Americans sing traditional Christmas songs like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. These Christmas Carols are often played in markets or performed outdoors during the holiday season.

Example: We’re meeting at the public park to sing Christmas Carols during the Christmas tree lighting at 6 o’clock.

Home for the Holidays

Americans typically use the term home for the holidays to let you know they’re traveling to see their family for the holidays. If someone asked you if you’re home for the holidays, they’re asking if you’re visiting your family or if you’re headed home during your vacation.

Example: We’re home for the holidays, but we live back in San Francisco.

Putting up holiday decorations

Like other countries, Americans have a traditional way of decorating their homes during the holiday season. Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths, and Christmas lights are just a few of the many decorations to choose from. When people are decorating for the holidays, they might also use the phrase putting up holiday decorations.

Example: My friends are coming over to drink mulled cider and put up the holiday decorations.

Holiday Cheer

There is a particular energy that takes over the U.S. around the holidays, which is known as holiday cheer. This can be described as the happiness and joy that getting and giving gifts brings, along with visiting loved ones.

Example: There was so much holiday cheer in the office that it was a very fun week before leaving for vacation.

Santa or Santa Claus

You might be familiar with the traditional word, Father Christmas. In the United States, most people shorten this to Santa or Santa Claus. You’ll even find Santa Claus dressed up and roaming around weeks before the big holiday.  

Example: My kids can’t wait for Santa to visit tonight. They’ve even put out cookies and milk for him.

Send out holiday cards

In American culture, it’s common for people or families to send cards to their loved ones during the holidays. Despite everyone going digital, holiday cards are a way for people to connect with others they care about during the holiday season.

Example: We took a family photo this weekend that we’ll be sending with our holiday cards.

The Abominable Snowman or Yeti

Originating from Nepal, you might hear a few references to the abominable snowman, or yeti, during the holiday season. Popularized by clay-animation of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, the abominable snowman is a silly holiday add-on that you might hear about when temperatures drop below freezing.

Example: I heard it’s supposed to get down to -20° tonight. If you’re going outside, watch out for the abominable snowman.

Yule Log

Although finding someone with a wood fireplace is rare for the holiday, you might wind up at a party where you’re lucky enough to sit by a warm fire. In the fire, you might find a yule log — a large log burning in the fireplace on Christmas Eve.

Example: We sat by the yule log with our friends, telling jokes and eating our favorite desserts.

Gift Wrapping

You’re probably familiar with wrapping gifts for a holiday, whether it’s a birthday or another annual celebration. During the holiday season, gift wrapping refers to both the act of wrapping gifts and the colorful paper you can find at the market.

Example: We purchased our gift wrapping early this year, so we’re all set for wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve.

Black-eyed peas

There are a lot of important holiday words to know around Christmas, as well as those you’ll encounter on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. One tradition, which people will talk about leading up to New Year’s Eve, is eating black eyed peas for good luck. You might hear your coworkers or friends planning their holiday foods and know that black-eyed peas are standard for an American New Year.

Example: We’re serving black-eyed peas and cornbread on New Year’s Day to ring in the New Year with good luck.

New Year’s Resolutions

The calendar New Year is a point of interest for a lot of Americans. During this holiday, it’s common for people to reflect on the past year and plan goals for the future. These goals or commitments are commonly known as resolutions.

Example: My New Year’s resolution is to spend more time with the people I love instead of working.

Whether you’re trying to spread holiday cheer or sitting down to write your New Year’s resolutions, you’re better prepared for the holidays knowing all these words, phrases, and traditions. Happy holidays!

Author Bio: Austin Bay is a writer who graduated from Boston University with his B.A. in International Relations. For more English learning resources, check out LinguaLinkDC.