Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Retro Episode 92: Christmas Spirit and Other Christmastime Phrases

We are digging into the archives this week to bring you the Christmas Spirit. Plus we talk *No Spoilers* about the new Christmas musical, Spirited. Then we jump into a RETRO episode on Christmas phrases, originally released December 23, 2020.

This week we get into the Christmas Spirit while talking about the Christmas Blues. New plan, let's talk about both! Learn about some of your favorite holiday idioms. Plus, the origins of "White Elephant" gift exchanges. It's all here for your holiday enjoyment on Bunny Trails!


 Click to read the show notes

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

RETRO Episode 92: Christmas Spirit and other Christmastime Phrases

Record Date: December 25, 2022

Air Date: December 28, 2022


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison 


And I’m Dan Pugh

This week we are looking back at the archives to enjoy a little “Christmas Spirit” with an entire episode on Christmas related phrases, episode 92 originally released December 23, 2020. 

In it we take a look at our childhood Christmas traditions, then talk about our favorite Christmas movies before moving to several Christmas phrases. 


I have a new Christmas movie to add to the list.


Me too! I bet it’s the same one. 


Probably. It’s Spirited, a new Christmas time musical with Will Ferrel and Ryan Reynolds. It’s my new favorite movie. If you want a good holiday earworm that isn’t sung by Mariah Carey, this is the place to go. 


Before we get to the episode, I want to say a huge thanks to our Patrons who make this all possible. Without folks like Emily, Jan, Charlie, Pat, and Mary to name a few, we wouldn’t be able to bring you this show every week. We are truly grateful. 


If you’d like to join them, head over to For now, enjoy a lighthearted look at several Christmas phrases to keep you in that “Christmas Spirit”. 

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 92: Christmas Idioms

Record Date: December 22, 2020

Air Date: December 23, 2020



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison 


And I’m Dan Pugh

Normally on Bunny Trails, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.  But on occasion we take a broader look at idioms that fit a particular theme. And since this week marks the celebration of “Christmas”, we’ll look at a couple of the phrases that reference this particular holiday.

Shauna, to get us into the Christmas mood, I want to hear about some of your holiday traditions.


My family would have a big get-together - it was an all-day event. We’d eat this giant meal and then all sit around watching Christmas movies and listening to music. Then we’d exchange gifts and just enjoy time as a family. 


All my holidays revolve around eating. But I haven’t really watched many Christmas movies. I’ve seen the Santa Clause movies with Tim Allen - the first two - and Die Hard, which is definitely not a Christmas movie but I watch it often at Christmas time. But White Christmas is the only Christmas movie I have any attachment to.


Another favorite tradition is actually one of my Aunt’s traditions. Every year, she chooses one day around the holidays and gets a group of family and friends together to volunteer their time on that day. She coordinates an entire meal for a local homeless shelter and then anyone from her group who can be there helps serve the meal and hang out with the guests. Sometimes, they sing holiday songs or tell stories. I think it embodies that “holiday spirit” that people often talk about. 


When I was a kid, we used to open one Christmas present on Christmas eve, and the rest we opened on Christmas morning. I suspect this was just to help us get some instant satisfaction and help keep us from being too wild with excitement about the other presents until Christmas morning.

We also would get together with family and bake goodies like peanut clusters, fudge, and a variety of other baked goods. Often we would ‘gift’ these to people at the various Christmas parties so everyone could take part in the eating of them, and if they wanted to take them home instead they could. 


Christmas Spirit

Let’s start off with the phrase “Christmas Spirit”, which most people readily understand if you celebrate Christmas. You may also hear the phrase “Holiday Spirit” because there are numerous holidays celebrated from late November through early January, and those are colloquially known as “the holidays” for many people. 

Christmas spirit  n. a mood or attitude appropriate to the Christmas season, esp. one involving feelings of goodwill, benevolence, and a willingness to enjoy oneself.

1827   Derby Mercury 26 Dec.   This Christmas spirit should methinks be more particularly kept up in the country.

1837 Thomas K Hervey “The Book of Christmas; Descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling, and Festivities of The christmas Season” 


Charles Dickens gets quite a bit of stir for Christmas Spirits in how 1843 book, A Christmas Carol, but he didn’t actually put Christmas and Spirit together in such a phrase. He was talking about spirits and in ghosts. And even if he did put it together in his original work, it was still in use prior to that in England.


It was also in use in the Americas in the mid 1800s, like this example...


Christmas blues

Now, of course, not everyone feels great during the Christmas Season. It’s the winter in the Northern hemisphere and in many places the days are shorter and colder. And for some, that alone can trigger some sadness.

 1. colloquial. Usually with the. Feelings of melancholy, sadness, or depression; the ‘blue devils’ (blue devil n. 2a).

1741   David Garrick · The letters of David Garrick (ed. G. M. Kahrl and D. M. Little) · 1st edition, 1963 (3 vols.). 11 July (1963) I. 26   I am far from being quite well, tho not troubled wth ye Blews as I have been.

Then add in the Christmas Season, with the expectations of presents, quality time with everyone in your life, and the inevitable inability to make everything happen just like you want it to… well, anxiety and sadness both can grow over this timeframe. 


A Quick Thank You

This week’s episode is sponsored by our Patrons, with special thanks to our Logomorphology Interns Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. Your support makes Bunny Trails happen and we couldn’t do it without you!

If you want to help keep Bunny Trails going for years to come, head over to our Patreon - - or check out the links on our website,


Idioms Continued...

Next up, two Christmas idioms that don’t actually happen during Christmas, but rather comment on the magic of Christmas when happening at another time in the year.

Christmas came early

used to indicate that something extremely enjoyable or fortunate is happening or has happened, esp. earlier than expected; frequently in Christmas come early (chiefly British and Irish English) OED

1919   Moshico Log 25 Dec. 2/3   Christmas came early to one member of the Payroll department. He appeared bright and early..Monday morning wearing a fine, fuzzy, black sky piece with a bright red lining.

1969   Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post 4 Nov. 34/3   'Christmas came early this year', said Mrs. Frank Mullen today after her 3-year-old son Mark was located by searchers after an all-night hunt through the wooded area near his home.


all one's Christmases come at once: one is experiencing remarkably good fortune; one has everything one could have wished or hoped for. OED

1953   Sun (Sydney) 18 June 19/3   Pianist ‘Beetles’ Young..thinks all his Christmases have come at once... The State Government Lotteries presented ‘Beetles’ with £6000 to share with fellow musician Frank Marcy.


2015   Aline Templeton Third Sin viii.   They [sc. the media] had loved rehashing the original scandal—with pretty girls, sex, drugs and tragedy, and now..a murder, it was all their Christmases come at once.

Wrap up...

Last but not least, I want to mention a phrase that doesn’t have the word “Christmas” in it, but does come up quite a bit around the holiday time… and that’s a white elephant gift exchange.

First, let’s look at the OED…

An elephant with unusually pale skin; spec. an Asian elephant ( Elephas maximus) of a kind having pale skin, hair, nails, and eyes, formerly kept by the kings of Siam (now Thailand), and revered in several southeast Asian countries (has citations from the 1500s)

But the figurative, according to the OED, means A burdensome or costly objective, enterprise, or possession, esp. one that appears magnificent; a financial liability. 

There is a common story the kings of Siam (now Thailand) would make a present of a white elephant to courtiers who had displeased them, in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance.

And the OED’s first attestation is from 1721 in the London Journal, which would also seem to indicate a different origin.

In short, Honour and Victory are generally no more than white Elephants; and for white Elephants the most destructive Wars have been often made.”

Regardless of how ‘white elephant’ came to be known as a burdensome or costly objective or possession, this Mental Floss article from 2019 by Hannah McDonald shows how the party aspect may have got started.

Hannah writes...

“The term white elephant party first appeared in a joke published in 1907 in Nebraska's The Columbus Journal, according to blogger Peter Jensen Brown. “A shocking thing happened in one of our nearby towns,” the joke begins. “One of the popular society women announced a ‘white elephant party.’ Every guest was to bring something she could not find any use for and yet too good to throw away ... Nine out of the 11 women invited brought their husbands.”

The white elephant joke was later published in newspapers all across the United States—the 1907 equivalent of going viral. In 1908, society pages in newspapers started publishing notices for actual white elephant parties, where attendees were encouraged to make gifts of objects they wanted to get rid of.” 



That’s about all the time we have for today. But white elephant parties got me thinking - do you or your family have a phrase that seems to come up during Christmas - even if it’s not a Christmas-centric expression? We’d love to hear it! We’re on Twitter and Facebook as @BunnyTrailsPod, or send us an email at


Remember you can get the show notes for this and every episode absolutely free on our website, Have a wonderful holiday season. We hope you are able to spend it with those you love. 

And thank *you* for spending your time with us this week. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember... 

Words belong to their users.


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