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12 interesting facts for the 12 Days of Christmas

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

by Stephen Andrews (単語・表現リスト by Shigeri Nishide)

It’s Christmas!

In the UK, it’s time to decorate your tree, adorn your house with tinsel, baubles and pretty lights, buy lots of presents for family and friends and drink and eat a little bit too much.

But some of the customs you might come across during a British Christmas might seem a little odd.

So, here is a guide to a few Christmas terms and phrases you might hear in this country during Christmas-time.

1. The Twelve Days of Christmas

The 12 days of Christmas are the 12 days following Christmas day. In the Christian Bible, the period begins with the birth of Christ on December 25th, Christmas Day, and ends with the coming of the Three Wise Men on January 6th.

But ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is also the name of a very famous English Christmas song, or carol. It’s quite interesting because it takes the form of a long list, where, in each verse, a series of increasingly numerous gifts is given on every day of the 12 days of Christmas.

For example: ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.’

‘On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 2 turtle doves.’

‘On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 3 French hens.’

By the time we reach the 12th day, the list has become very long:

On the 12th day of Christmas My true love sent to me 12 drummers drumming Eleven pipers piping Ten lords a leaping Nine ladies dancing Eight maids a milking Seven swans a swimming Six geese a laying

Five golden rings Four calling birds Three French hens Two turtle doves And a partridge in a pear tree

Not much of the song makes sense from a modern perspective. Three French hens isn’t the sort of gift you might give someone these days, but it did make sense when the song was written, way back in 1780.

Why not Google the full lyrics?

2. Advent Calendar

On the other hand, the weeks before Christmas are known as Advent, which ends on December 24th. Counting down the days until Christmas arrives is where the idea of the Advent Calendar comes from. They are often rectangular cards or boxes you can hang on the wall or sit on a table with small sealed doors or windows, meant to be opened in order on each day of Advent, revealing a small item or devotional phrase.

3. Yuletide

Occasionally, you might hear someone refer to Christmas as ‘Yule’ or ‘Yuletide’. This strange name derives from the old Norse or Scandinavian language and is simply a synonym for Christmas. In Britain, it has given rise to some very bad puns, such as: ‘I hope Yule have a great Christmas!’

4. Mulled Wine

This is the traditional Christmas drink. Basically, it’s ordinary red wine, with lots of different herbs and spices added. You can buy it pre-made, but it’s a lot more fun to make your own.

5. Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer

As everyone knows, Santa Claus has ten reindeer pulling his sleigh. They are called Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and, of course, Rudolph. Rudolph is the only reindeer with a red nose. Nobody knows quite why this is. But the rumour is that he’s very fond of drinking mulled wine. Naughty Rudolf!

6. Deck the Halls

This is simply an old-fashioned way to say to decorate your home for Christmas. And not just the hallway, but your living room and whole house if you want to! ‘Deck’ is just an abbreviation for ‘decorate’.

7. Noel

You might recognise ‘Noel’ as an English Christian name, for example, Noel Gallagher from the band Oasis. Actually, it’s the French word for Christmas. In English, it’s popularly known through the carol ‘The First Noel’ which contains the lyrics:

‘The First Noel, the Angels did say Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay…’

8. Bah! Humbug!

You might know a book called ‘A Christmas Carol’, one of the most famous works by the English author, Charles Dickens. The phrase is used by the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, who really hates Christmas and replies ‘Bah! Humbug’ to anyone who wishes him a merry Christmas. A ‘humbug’ is something that is nonsense or gibberish. To be a ‘Scrooge’ at Christmas is very bad!

9. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

This is the title of a famous Christmas song, sung by Nat King Cole. But the idea for the song came from the traditional English activity of roasting chestnuts over a brazier (an open fire) by vendors who sold the chestnuts in little bags to people passing in the street. You might still come across them in London today, at Christmas markets and fairs.

10. Kissing under the Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a plant with white berries often used in Christmas decorations, where it is usually hung from the ceiling. If you’re a girl and find yourself standing underneath it at a party, it means that a man has to kiss you, even if you don’t fancy him! Another odd English tradition! It apparently began ages ago, in the 18th century, nobody knows quite why, but it could have been part of the many superstitions surrounding the mistletoe plant, dating back centuries.

11. Christmas Crackers

Crackers are traditionally pulled during Christmas dinner or at Christmas parties. The person who ends up with the larger end of cracker keeps the contents of the cardboard tube. In our case, this is usually Shigeri! Christmas crackers traditionally contain a colourful crown-shaped hat made of tissue paper, a small toy, or a trinket, and a small paper strip with a motto or very bad joke. The paper hats, with the appearance of crowns, are usually worn when eating your Christmas dinner. Crackers were invented by Tom Smith, a London baker, way back in 1847.

12. Turkey and all the Trimmings

British families usually have a roast Christmas lunch or dinner, with a main course of turkey, chicken and sometimes duck. ‘With all the trimmings’ simply means all the extra things that traditionally come with something to make it more special, such as cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, gravy, stuffing, bread sauce, Brussels sprouts, turnips and carrots.

Well, this is the last blog of the year from me. I hope yule have a very merry Christmas, meet Rudolph, get kissed under the mistletoe and have a real cracker of a Christmas day!



adorn: to decorate something

devotional: 礼拝で使う(音楽、フレーズなど)

synonym: 同意語

puns: だじゃれ、語呂合わせの言葉遊び

trinket: (価値のない、またはおもちゃのような)ジュエリーなどの飾り物





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