Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings

by Liz Walter

KidStock/Blend Images/Getty
KidStock/Blend Images/Getty

At this time of year, many people around the world gather with their families to celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and other festivals. Relatives come to stay with you, share large meals, and give presents. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But when families get together, there can be tension, too. This post looks at some common idioms and phrases that we use to describe what can happen when families have a little too much togetherness.

In our dreams, we imagine cosy family meals with the kids on their best behaviour and everyone being careful to steer clear of (avoid) those topics they know will cause Great-Uncle Henry to go off on one (UK )/go off on someone (US). We want our parties to go (UK) / go off (US) with a bang  (be very successful) so that everyone has a whale of a time (enjoys themselves very much) and Great-Uncle Henry forgets his usual complaints and turns into the life and soul of the party (becomes happy and sociable).

Unfortunately, life isn’t always like that! Just because someone is your own flesh and blood (part of your family) doesn’t mean they won’t drive you around the bend (annoy you a lot). Most families have a sister-in-law who’s a complete wet blanket (miserable person who stops others enjoying themselves), a child who makes a scene (behaves badly) if they don’t get the exact presents they want, or an over-chatty grandma who won’t let anyone else get a word in edgeways (UK)/edgewise (US).

Older relatives may not appreciate that the kids want to get up at the crack of dawn (extremely early), or that they’ll be climbing the walls (bored and needing exercise) after lunch, just when the adults want to snooze on the sofa. And anyone can go a bit stir-crazy (feel desperate to get away) after being in a room with their family for too long!

Decisions about who to invite or who to visit are a bone of contention (something that causes arguments) in many households. Finances are another worry. You want to be generous, but you don’t want to buy gifts that break the bank (cost too much), and things can be particularly tricky if you don’t see eye to eye (don’t agree) on the appropriate amount to spend.

This time of year is often toughest for the host or hostess. You want everything to run/go like clockwork (be successful), but looking after guests as well as cooking a big meal can be a difficult balancing act. You are rushed off your feet (extremely busy) trying to get everything done, but at the same time you may be walking on eggshells (being very careful what you say or do) in order to avoid conflict. All this stress can take its toll (affect you badly), and it can be very hard to keep your cool (remain calm).

Reading back over this post, I’m struck again by how many more idioms we have for negative things than for positive! Nevertheless, for readers celebrating at this time of year, I wish you every happiness, and hope your celebrations go like a dream (very successfully)!

P.S.: Look out for next month’s post on idioms for the New Year.

15 thoughts on “Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings

  1. Pingback: Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Dec 21, 2016) | Editorial Words

  2. Chirag

    Though i have come across some of these idioms before, but as a human tendency to procrastinate things, i never tried to knew what they meant
    But today, from this very article i learned something i have hitherto avoided.
    Thank you!
    Keep posting!!
    Have a sweet Christmas

  3. Pingback: Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings | Editorials Today

  4. Great to have all these phrases in one place. Thank you. I remember a page long text with make and do, describing one’s day and all the daily activities, our English teachers wrote for us. I keep looking for it and have to make do without it at the moment but, maybe, I try to recreate it myself one day.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

  5. very good article

    On 21 December 2016 at 19:01, About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog wrote:

    > Liz Walter posted: “by Liz Walter At this time of year, many people around > the world gather with their families to celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, > Kwanzaa, and other festivals. Relatives come to stay with you, share large > meals, and give presents. It sounds lovely, does” >

  6. Lita

    It helps me to enrich my English vocabularies, because i am not from english-speaking country; I am from Indonesia. I much learn from you. To be honest, I like your every articles. I am always waiting for yours. Thank you so much. Have a great day!.

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