We’re already a week into December, which means Christmas is just around the corner! Here in America, our Christmas holiday is a tradition that has been pieced together from other traditions from around the world—a testament to the “melting pot” of cultures that have come together to make up the culture of the United States. And now, thanks to the power and reach of American films, music, television, and other media, those American traditions are now in turn spreading back out into the world at large!
With so many people around the world celebrating the holidays in their own special ways, it’s never been easier to celebrate with the world. If you’re traveling abroad this holiday season, or have friends or family overseas, check out our 5 language tips for the upcoming Christmas holiday:
1. Learn how to say “Merry Christmas” in another language
The easiest way to spread Christmas cheer to someone across the globe is to learn how to say “Merry Christmas” in their native language. There are several sites out there that will help you write or pronounce a festive greeting for the holidays. Metro News, for example, has a good list to get you started.
2. Don’t trust Google Translate with your holiday messages
Or Bing, or any other machine translation service for that matter! While machine translation has its place, avoid relying on it too heavily for anything personal or important. Just look what happened to the store Tesco when they tried to translate their English Christmas card into Irish using Google, printing up thousands of cards with literal but meaningless text without context—essentially ending up with incomprehensible gibberish.
Or, if you’re really unlucky, you could end up with something like these festive holiday sale signs (above) from a Japanese department store!
3. Be aware of cultural differences
Even in two countries as close, both historically and linguistically, as the United States and England, there are some pretty big distinctions to be made when it comes to Christmas! Here are just a few interesting ones from the blog Glossophilia:
|American English||British English|
|Santa Claus||Father Christmas|
|Merry Christmas||Happy Christmas|
|The North Pole||Lapland|
4. Don’t jump to conclusions
Within the past 5 years or so, the German figure of Krampus has grown massively in popularity throughout the rest of the world. For those who don’t know, Krampus is the sinister-looking sidekick to Santa Claus who punishes children who have misbehaved.
Other cultures have similar customs as well, and it may be easy to jump to negative conclusions when you hear about figures like Dutch Figure Zwarte Piet, or “Black Peter.” While the name and appearance of the character may strike some as crude or even cruel racial caricature, in the Netherlands he is seen as a traditional and important character in the Christmas tradition. Even within the Netherlands, the character has become more controversial in recent years.
Either way, when discussing customs and traditions that are new and unfamiliar, do keep an open mind and try to use historical and culture context before jumping to any conclusions.
5. Learn a new (old) Christmas word
So many of our Christmas traditions are so old (sometimes centuries old) that we just accept them at face value without really thinking about what they mean. Even the language of Christmas is sometimes outdated and confusing. Here are a just a few interesting words and phrases we use around Christmastime that (admit it) a lot of us don’t really understand!
“Here we come a wassailing.” Wassail is a beverage of hot mulled cider, and “to wassail” means to go door-to-door, singing and offering a drink from the wassail bowl in exchange for gifts.
“Troll the ancient yuletide carol.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “troll,” in late Middle English, meant “to sing something in a happy and carefree way.”
And for that matter yule, which actually originally referred to “a festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples. Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin, and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht.”
Do you know of any other weird Christmas words, or have any other language tips for this Christmas season? Let us know in the comments below.