Christmas phrases

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by Kate Woodford

It’s Christmas! At Cambridge Dictionary, we like to get into the Christmas spirit so today, we’re bringing you festive phrases with a round-up of idioms that contain a word that we often associate with Christmas.

Let’s start with snow. In the UK, at least, it very rarely snows at Christmas but our Christmas cards often show beautiful snowy scenes. If someone has too much work to do, we say they are snowed under: She’s completely snowed under at work.

‘Snowball’, (=a ball of snow for throwing) features in two idioms. The snowball effect refers to the way that once something has started, its size or effect keeps getting bigger: Because of the snowball effect of social media, the publicity around the case grew and grew.

If someone or something has absolutely no chance of achieving something or getting something good, we sometimes say they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell: Without a good lawyer, she doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. (The idea here is that in hell, the heat would immediately melt a snowball.)

Focusing now on typical Christmas food rather than weather, a bird that is often eaten at Christmas is the turkey. If someone chooses a course of action which will have negative consequences for them, we sometimes say it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas: So why would people vote for a party that’s going to make them poorer? It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas!

Geese are also traditionally eaten on Christmas day. The singular form ‘goose’ features in two nice idioms. The goose that lays the golden egg(s) is the thing that makes you the most money. If you kill the goose that lays the golden egg(s), you destroy that valuable thing: Like most companies, you trade on your reputation. Spoil your reputation and you kill the goose that lays the golden egg(s).

A wild-goose chase, meanwhile, is a search for something that is completely unsuccessful because what you are looking for doesn’t exist or cannot be found: Honestly, I think we’re on a wild-goose chase trying to find the document. I suspect she threw it away years ago.

Christmas pudding often follows the main course. (It’s a dark, sweet food containing lots of dried fruit.) People sometimes say the proof of the pudding (is in the eating), meaning that you can only judge the quality of something after you have tried it yourself: As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so here are some reviews from our customers for you to read.

Finally, angels are very much part of Christmas. When we accept that a person isn’t perfect and sometimes behaves badly, we sometimes say that they are no angel: I’m the first to admit that my son is no angel, but he’s certainly not a bully.

Someone who is on the side of the angels supports the side that is moral and good in a situation: He’s a committed environmentalist and very much on the side of the angels.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these festive idioms. I’ll finish by wishing Season’s Greetings to all the wonderful readers of this blog!

17 thoughts on “Christmas phrases

  1. As I, probably said before, there is an urgent need to revise your translator. Just tried to translate the sentence: She’s completely snowed under at work, to obtain following result in Spanish: Está completamente nevada en el trabajo.

  2. Thank you so much! By the way, I actually came across the phrase ”turkeys voting for Christmas!” in The Guardian during the UK election campaign 🙂

    Season’s Greetings!

  3. Maryem Salama

    One of your chosen idioms reminds me of a proverb usually said when a situation which supposed to be profitable, but the case is just the opposite. ” I work in hell, so how come I sleep in the cold.” Sorry, it so far from your festive blog, Merry Christmas for all.

  4. Valorosa2020

    What a very great surprise for me in reading all the post of Christmas phrases: I didn’t learn anything something good as I read here. Please could you send me by email some useful internet links that refer to your blog? I’m very interested in all of these topics and for me it’s very important to learn idioms and sayings in English.

    Have a nice 2020 and I hope for you that the New Year will be full of joy, success and love in your lives.


    Thank You, Kate, for Your important and active participation in the matter of mutualy understanding between people from over the World.
    Bless You, God!
    Congratulations on the forthcoming New 2020!
    I wish You an endless and enduring youth, happiness and prosperity!

  6. … we like to get into the Christmas spirit so today, we’re bringing you …


    The comma after the word ‘today’ irks me a little. I wish it’d been placed after the word ‘spirit’, so the sentence would read as: … we like to get into the Christmas spirit, so today we’re bringing you …

    Hope my comment makes sense!

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hello! It does indeed! I put my comma where I paused when writing the sentence, but I can see that yours makes sense too and is probably more elegant! Best wishes from Camnridge.

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