With the holiday season here, you may have seen Santa Claus in shopping areas and perhaps on TV. You probably know that Santa Claus is an important part of Christmas in most English-speaking countries, but do you know the language and traditions connected to him? This post will cover everything you need to know to talk about Santa and get into the Christmas spirit!
Names for Santa Claus
Before we can talk about Santa, we need to know what to call him. Santa Claus has a few different names, and they come from the historical people and cultural beliefs that helped create him.
Santa's most popular nickname is St. Nick, and it comes from a priest from the 4th century named St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas lived in the area we now call Turkey, and was famous for giving gifts to children and poor people. For Dutch speakers, St. Nicholas' name was shortened to "Sinterklaas."
Santa is also sometimes called Kris Kringle, which comes from the German word "Christkinkle" or "Christ child." This nickname became more popular in the US because of a movie from 1947 called Miracle on 34th St. The movie is about an employee at a famous New York department store who tells everyone that he is actually the real Santa Claus.
Words and expressions for talking about Santa
Now that we know different names for Santa, what are the most common words and expressions people use when talking about him and the Christmas season?
The North Pole
Children are told that the cold and snowy North Pole is the place where Santa lives. It's where you can find Santa's workshop, which is full of elves who help him to make toys for girls and boys who have been good throughout the year. A workshop is a building where things are made or fixed, and elves are magical creatures that look like small people with pointed ears.
Many years ago, children wanted things like teddy bears and dolls to play with. So it's a little strange to think about Santa and his helpers making the high-tech items that are popular today!
Naughty and nice
If you've heard the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town, you will know that Santa has a list of names of nice children and naughty children. "Nice" is an easy word, but "naughty" isn't as common. However, it's still a good word to remember, even when it's not the Christmas season.
Naughty can be used to describe kids who break the rules or do not listen to what adults tell them. It's not the same as "bad," but it definitely isn't good!
A lump of coal
Traditionally, boys and girls on Santa's "nice" list could expect to get toys and games as presents. However, kids who were naughty would only get a lump of coal — a "lump" is a piece of something that is hard or solid. So instead of something fun, they only received something to help them stay warm in the winter.
Many people today do not burn coal for heat. However, parents sometimes tell their children that they will get a lump of coal for Christmas if they do not behave. Adults even use this expression as a joke when they don't expect to receive any nice gifts for Christmas.
How does Santa enter the homes of children all over the world? He goes down the chimney! A chimney is like a long pipe that connects the roof of a house to the fireplace inside to let out the smoke.
You may be wondering how Santa can go up and down chimneys even though he is overweight and carries a big bag of toys. And how does he get inside homes without chimneys? The answer is simple — he uses a little bit of Christmas magic.
Milk and cookies
Christmas Eve is a very busy night for Santa, so many children leave him a snack so he doesn't get too hungry while he's working. The traditional food to leave for him is a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. These are usually put near the fireplace or close to the Christmas tree.
Jolly is an adjective that means "happy and cheerful." This word is normally only used during the Christmas season. Now, if you hear someone say "jolly old St. Nick," you will know exactly what they mean!
Ho Ho Ho
We normally describe the sound of someone laughing as "ha ha." But Santa is a very unique person, so his laugh is also very unique.
There are other types of laughs, such as "hehe" and "hee hee," but "ho ho ho" is for Santa only! This laugh is often followed by a cheerful "Merry Christmas!"
Talking about gifts
Children love Santa because they hope he will bring them presents each year. But Santa also helps parents because children know they will only get presents if they are nice and not naughty.
There are two main ways for children to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. One way is to write a letter to Santa and send it to the North Pole! Parents, helping your child write a letter to Santa can be a fun way to get them to practice using their English!
Another option is to talk to Santa directly! In the weeks before Christmas, many children visit Santa at a shopping mall or other public place. Santa will usually be sitting in a large chair surrounded by elves. Children wait in line for a chance to sit on Santa's knee and tell him what they would like as a Christmas present.
Here are some common ways to talk about Santa and Christmas gifts:
Want to learn more?
If you would like to practice your English skills while also learning more about Santa Claus, here are some movies that are all about jolly old St. Nick!
Miracle on 34th Street (1947, 1994)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970)
The Santa Clause (1994)
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
There are many more, but we hope you've learned enough this time to help you join the next Christmas conversation in English!