Learn English with Films: History of Christmas

Learn English with Films: History of Christmas

For many people it’s the most wonderful time of the year, associated with family, presents, snow, decorations, Santa Claus, etc. But why is it so? Who is Santa Claus and what does he have to do with Christ’s birth, which Christmas is about? Why do we decorate a Christmas tree and why is it supposed to be a fir tree? Let’s watch the documentary which can answer these and other questions about the beloved festival. Before you watch, check out the word list with useful vocabulary from the film. Let’s watch and learn!


Useful vocabulary from the film:

  • a Scrooge – a person who hates spending money, but in this context it’s a person who hates Christmas (Ebenezer Scrooge is a character of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens; related: “Famous Characters in Colloquial English“): It’s the exciting season of presents and parties only a Scrooge could hate.
  • brace yourself – said to warn sb. to be prepared for sth.: Brace yourself for the truth behind the holiday we love.
  • five-and-ten – a name for a variety storeTake a look at the five-and-ten glistening once again…
  • to add up to sth. – if separate amounts add up to a total amount, together they form that total: The spending for holiday decorations and gifts adds up to over 15 billion dollars each year.
  • splashy – brightly colored: The designers and craftsmen create the splashiest of Christmas displays.
  • obscure – not well known: The backstory of many of our holiday traditions is part of the obscure but real story of Christmas.
  • to chop sth. down – to make a tree or tall plant fall down by cutting through it: Chopping down a tree and propping it up in our living rooms is a Christmas tradition. (If you prop sth. up, you stop it from falling by putting sth. under it or against it.)
  • Yule – the old word meaning “Christmas”, but in this context it’s the name of an ancient annual festival of Northern European tribes: To honor the occasion, ancient tribes held a 12 day festival called Yule.
  • on hand – available and able to be used: There is a lot of meat on hand.
  • to co-opt – to take sb.’s idea or plan and use it as if it were your own: The concept grew and later it was co-opted into our modern Christmas tree custom.
  • focal point – the most important, interesting, or attractive part of sth., that you concentrate on or pay particular attention to: Today’s seedling will become the decorative focal point at someone’s merry Christmas. 
  • the Nativity – the birth of Jesus, which is celebrated by Christians at Christmas: We have two sources from the New Testament for the Nativity.
  • toga – a long loose piece of clothing worn by ancient Romans: You can think of it as a big office party but in togas.
  • trappings – possessions that show that sb. is rich, powerful, or important: Decorations may be the essential trappings of our modern Christmas.
  • honest-to-goodness – real/true: Kids can pet an honest-to-goodness reindeer.
  • reveler (literary) – sb. who enjoys themselves at a lively and noisy party or celebration by dancing, singing, and drinking alcohol: Ancient revelers would have a hard time recognizing our modern Christmas.
  • unrestrained – expressing your feelings in an uncontrolled way: Christmas was earthier, unrestrained and fun.
  • solemn – involving serious behavior or serious attitudes: Christmas was a solemn church day.
  • hymn /hɪm– a religious song that people usually sing in churches: Hymns are sacred music.
  • vernacular – the language spoken by a particular group or in a particular area, when it is different from the formal written language: Christmas carols were sung in the vernacular.
  • backlash – a strong, negative, and often angry reaction to sth. that has happened, especially a political or social change: There was a backlash against Christmas among Protestant groups.
  • repudiation (formal) – rejection, abandonment: There was a repudiation of Christmas.
  • pious /ˈpaɪəs– strict in your religious beliefs and practices: Pious settlers looked upon the holiday with suspicion.
  • chastity – a way of life that does not include any sexual activity, especially for religious reasons: One Puritan commentator said that Christmas was chastity shipwreck.
  • well-to-do – rich and belonging to an upper class family: The well-to-do launched a crusade (=campaign) against rowdy (= noisy and causing trouble) Christmas.
  • homespun – simple and not learnt from books: The Dutch embraced their old-world homespun Christmas customs.
  • to distill – to produce a summary that contains only the most important ideas or pieces of information: The poem distilled various traditions.
  • watershed – an event that causes an important change to take place: The poem becomes a path-breaking (= innovative) moment, a watershed in how Christmas is celebrated.
  • switch – a stick that is so thin that you can bend it easily: He might bring a switch to punish naughty children.
  • to cower /ˈkaʊə(r)– to move your body down and away from sb. or sth. because you are frightened: Two little boys are cowering.
  • to tote – to carry sth.: He toted a sack full of toys.
  • to enthrall – to make you so interested in or excited by sth. that you give it all your attention: The poem enthralled 19th century Americans.
  • indelible – permanent: The image of Santa became indelible.
  • free-for-all – an uncontrolled situation in which people are competing with each other to gain as much as they can for themselves: It’s the free-for-all called Black Friday.
  • to conjure sth. up – to bring sth. such as a feeling or memory to your mind: Santa marketed the warm nostalgia Christmas conjured up.
  • derision – the opinion that sb. or sth. is stupid, unimportant, or useless: After getting derision from people, the person ends up being a hero.
  • GI – a US soldier in uniform, especially one who is not an officer: There were millions of GIs celebrating Christmas away from home.
  • to wind up – to be in a particular place or situation not because you choose to, but because of other things that have happened: The story wound up in the hands of the director.
  • yin and yang – in Chinese philosophy, the two opposite principles and forces that are thought to exist in all things: It’s a yin and yang film.
  • flurry – a series of things that happen suddenly: There were a flurry of animated specials destined to be rerun every Christmas for decades to come.
  • to bemoan sth. (formal) – to complain or say that you are disappointed about sth.: Every generation bemoans the current state of Christmas.

We hope you liked the article and were able to learn something new with it. Have a very merry Christmas! 🎄 😊

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