English for the Holiday Season

Happy HolidaysEven if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it is polite to offer special greetings and farewells throughout the month of December in English speaking countries. You can exchange holiday wishes with anyone, including colleagues, clients, friends, teachers, and anyone in the service industry (cashiers, waiters, bus drivers, hair dressers, etc.).

Here are the most common holiday greetings:
Merry Christmas!
Happy holidays. (use throughout December)
Have a nice Christmas.
Seasons Greetings. (often used in writing)
Happy New Year! (use if you won’t see this person until after Jan 1)

(The same phrases can be used in writing at the end of an email. Use them in place of “Best Wishes” or “Warm Regards”.)

When someone says “Merry Christmas” you can repeat the same phrase back. Or, try one of these responses:

A: Merry Christmas.
B: Merry Christmas to you too.

A: Happy holidays.
B: Same to you.

A: Have a nice Christmas.
B: You too. See you in the New Year

Here are some questions you will hear often during the month of December:
What are you doing for Christmas?
What are you up to this Christmas?
Are you doing anything special for Christmas?
Do you have plans for Christmas?
What are you having for Christmas? (Christmas food)
Where will you be celebrating Christmas? (with friends, at home, at a colleague’s house)
Have you been good this Christmas? (Will Santa bring you a present?)
Would you like to come to a Christmas party?
Are you doing anything on …(date)? (an invitation is coming…)

How to accept an invitation:
I’d love to come, thank you.
That sounds fun!
Sure. That’s very kind of you to think of me.

How to decline an invitation:
I’d love to, but I’m afraid I’m busy.
I’m sorry; I won’t be able to make it.
I wish I could, but I’m ….(your excuse)

How to accept a gift:
Thank you.
Oh, you shouldn’t have.
That was awfully kind of you.
You’re so sweet.

How to offer a gift:
It’s just a little something.
Here’s something for under your tree.
I hope you like it.
Don’t open this until Christmas. OR You can open it now if you’d like.

Christmas Vocabulary to know around Children:
Santa Claus/Father Christmas: he brings children presents after they go to sleep on December 24th
Mrs Claus: Santa’s wife
reindeer: the animals that pull Santa’s sleigh
Rudolph: The red nosed reindeer from the classic Christmas tale. He lights Santa’s way on a foggy night.
Frosty: The popular Christmas snowman
stockings: socks that children hang for Santa to fill
carols: Christmas songs

Gift Exchange Tip: You may receive an unexpected gift from a colleague or friend at Christmas. It’s okay if you don’t have one to give in return. People don’t expect gifts every time they give one. Just remember to say thank you! Another word for “gift” is “present”.

Related Pages:
How to say thank you
How to shop

Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | November 2009
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.

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