Word Nerd: 5 expressions for the December holiday season

5 Dec

December is here, and that means holiday season in many parts of the world. Sure, everyone is familiar with the more common holiday traditions, like Santa Claus and decorated trees. But if it’s your first December as an international student, you’re probably on a learning curve. Let us help you out!

1. Snow Day

This is North American English, but anyone who has lived through a few winters in the northern Europe or any other place that has snowy winters has enjoyed and/or suffered this phenomenon. Basically, it’s a day when it snows so heavily that commuting becomes impossible and schools, universities, and offices are forced to declare a holiday. Your options: stay at home and study, or bundle up, go outside, and have some fun!

2. Boxing Day

This has nothing to do with Mary Kom or Muhammad Ali. It has its roots in a centuries-old tradition in the UK of employers or customers giving a “Christmas box” to employees and tradespeople, containing gifts or money. Boxing Day is observed on the first weekday after Christmas – usually December 26 – and is a public holiday in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and parts of the US. The tradition of giving gifts to the needy and to those in service positions goes back maybe 1,000 years or more in many places.

3. Holiday Stress

Sometimes, students from cultures where Christmas is not a big celebration don’t get it – why should this season of joy be stressful? But the fact is that it can get stressful for several reasons. Campus student health centers, medical websites such as mayoclinic.org, and even the media, recognize that reality, and often offer expert tips to deal with it. These include suggestions such as planning ahead, sticking to a budget, and avoiding controversial topics at the dinner table.

4. Krampus

Everyone knows that St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, brings presents for nice children, and that naughty kids get only a lump of coal. But how do you get kids to be nice? The Germans came up with Krampus, a fearsome creature with horns and fangs, who comes to your house, carrying a chain and clanging bells. Krampus beats naughty children with a stick, and hauls off the worst of them to another world. Makes a lump of coal seem like a pretty good deal, doesn’t he? In the above video, actor Christoph Waltz explains the Krampus tradition in his native Austria.

5. Ded Moroz

To an English speaker, those words sound like the opposites of ‘lively’ and ‘cheerful’. But in Russian, ded means ‘grandfather’, and moroz is frost. Grandfather Frost is the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus. He brings children presents on New Year’s Eve. He’s usually accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka, or the Snow Maiden, who wears a silver-blue dress and furry hat.

Got some holiday expressions to add to our list? Leave a comment below, or email us!

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