WHAT TO SAY at Christmas time! ūüéĄ

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Find out what to say at Christmas time and practise these common English expressions with me!

There are many common phrases and sayings that you’ll hear at this time of year, so you may as well make the most of it and learn some Christmas vocabulary!

If you’ve been invited to spend Christmas with English speakers, then this lesson is a MUST-WATCH! Get ready for Christmas conversations and brush up on these common expressions!

If you celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all my lovely students for a wonderful new year!

Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish!¬†So Christmas is just around the corner and¬†in this lesson, I’ll focus on some common English¬†expressions and vocabulary¬†that you’ll hear at this time of year.¬†The Christmas holiday is celebrated so differently¬†around the world.¬†For some, it’s a religious celebration. For others,¬†it’s just a cultural celebration but an important one.

Most of you know that here in Australia, we celebrate¬†Christmas a little differently.¬†It’s not the quintessential white Christmas¬†that you imagine.¬†We spend days at the beach over our holidays¬†and the food that we eat is a little less traditional.¬†We eat prawns and salads and cold ham and¬†all of those delicious things.¬†All of my students in South America,¬†Southeast Asia and even parts of Africa.¬†I mean, we definitely do things a little differently¬†down in the southern hemisphere, right?

If you celebrate Christmas in summer,¬†I want to hear about your traditions in the comments.¬†How do you and your family celebrate?¬†What’s your favourite thing to do on Christmas Day?¬†Now for those of you who celebrate a more traditional,¬†white Christmas, you probably can’t even imagine¬†Christmas in summer, right? A hot Christmas.¬†It must sound completely crazy to you.¬†And if you don’t celebrate Christmas at all,¬†you’ve probably got another similar holiday¬†where you eat lots of delicious food with the people¬†that you love and maybe you share gifts with each other¬†so I’d love to hear about your celebrations as well.¬†If you’ve got time, add a quick description¬†into the comments, I’d love to read about it.

But back to Christmas.¬†There are some tricky words and expressions that are¬†used at Christmas time in English¬†so in this lesson we’ll focus on how you can¬†say them confidently.

You’ll practise how to wish someone a Merry Christmas.¬†You’ll find out what a Kris Kringle is and¬†I’ll help you to get in the Christmas spirit.

Merry Christmas

I’m sure that you’ve heard this greeting before,¬†it’s probably the most¬†famous Christmas expression there is.¬†But so often, it’s mispronounced by my English students.¬†‚ÄėMerry’ could be a little tricky for you if your native¬†language is Thai, Vietnamese or another¬†Asian language, because of that /r/ consonant sound.

So with the consonant, make sure that the tip of your¬†tongue is not touching anything¬†and that it’s pushed up in the middle and pulling back¬†from the front of your mouth.¬†The edges of your tongue can touch the top inside teeth¬†Now ‚ÄėChristmas’ is also tricky because the T is silent.¬†Most native speakers just simply say ‚ÄėMerry Christmas’.¬†And the letter A here is unstressed¬†so you’ll just hear it as the schwa sound.¬†It’s flat, it’s low in pitch.¬†If you’re not sure what the schwa sound is,¬†then check out this lesson here that I made all about it.

But let’s try ‚ÄėChristmas’ together.¬†Forget about that T sound in there,¬†you need to be a little lazy with the A.¬†Listen to the intonation there.

In most English-speaking countries, you’ll hear¬†‚ÄėMerry Christmas’ and ‚ÄėHappy Christmas’.¬†Both are good options.

Christmas Eve

The night before Christmas is also an important day.¬†Depending on the culture, some people actually eat their¬†big family Christmas meal on Christmas Eve¬†and not on Christmas Day.¬†And some cultures open their presents¬†on Christmas Eve.¬†But more importantly,¬†for many children around the world,¬†Christmas Eve is the time when Santa Claus comes¬†flying to their house with his sleigh and his reindeer¬†to leave Christmas presents under the Christmas tree.¬†It’s a big night and it’s also hard to pronounce.

The consonant sound at the end of ‚ÄėChristmas’¬†links to the vowel sound at the start of ‚ÄėEve’¬†and the two words are usually pronounced as if¬†they were one big word and remember, don’t pronounce that T.¬†And don’t forget that final /v/ consonant at the end.

Kris Kringle

What on earth is that?¬†Well let’s start with Santa,¬†you probably know him, right? This guy.¬†Also known as Santa Claus.¬†Yeah, in English that word is pronounced¬†just like ‚Äėclaws’ and ‚Äėclause’.¬†He’s also known as Father Christmas.¬†He’s known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick¬†and Kris Kringle in some countries¬†and of all of those names,¬†I think the hardest to pronounce is Kris Kringle.

So saying two words that begin with the /kr/¬†consonant cluster, it’s kind of like a tongue twister.¬†It really makes the muscles in your mouth work.¬†And don’t forget that tiny little schwa sound there¬†in the syllabic consonant.¬†So it’s an unstressed second syllable.¬†In some accents, it’s syllabic¬†otherwise there’s a tiny little schwa sound in there.¬†This one might take a little bit of getting used to¬†but there’s no time like the present.

Repeat after me.¬†It’s like a tongue twister. How fast can you say it¬†without messing it up?¬†Now for me in Australia, Kris Kringle is actually¬†an activity played at Christmas time¬†especially amongst big groups of friends¬†or colleagues at work.

So it’s a gift-swapping game. It’s quite popular.¬†You write everybody’s name on a small piece of paper¬†and put it into a hat or a bucket.¬†Then you choose one of the pieces of paper¬†without looking¬†and the person on this piece of paper is the one that¬†you have to buy a Christmas present for.

So you can’t tell anyone who you’re buying¬†your present for and there’s usually an amount of money¬†that everyone agrees to spend so the presents¬†are all of the same value.¬†And there’s actually a lot of different variations¬†on this game depending on where you are in the¬†English-speaking world.¬†It might also be called Secret Santa.¬†If you’re in America, I think it’s called Yankee Swap¬†or White Elephant, so there are lots of games where¬†everyone brings a present to a party and then you know¬†it’s a bit of fun sharing those presents around.

But sometimes there’s slightly different rules,¬†so if you do ever get invited to one of these¬†games at Christmas,¬†then make sure you just double-check the rules.

Christmas wish list

Now that we’re on the topic of presents and gifts,¬†do you have anything special on your¬†Christmas wish list this year?¬†We usually exchange gifts at Christmas time and your¬†wish list is a list of all of the things¬†that you hope to receive.¬†Now most commonly this is done by children,¬†particularly because they write their list of gifts¬†they want to receive from Santa.

Now I’m wondering if you have a Christmas wish list.¬†If you do, what’s on it?¬†For me, I would really like a pretty beach umbrella¬†and some new beach chairs,¬†that’s what’s on my Christmas list.¬†Fingers crossed that Santa sees that this year.

So this is a pronunciation nightmare¬†if you have trouble with the¬†and sounds.¬†For such a short phrase it’s actually pretty tough to say, especially at the ends of these words.¬†So for the sound, your lips need to flare outwards.¬†And your tongue is pulling a little back¬†but your teeth are not quite touching¬†and of course, it’s an unvoiced sound¬†so the air is pushing through your mouth.

The -st consonants at the end of ‚Äėlist’¬†might also be tricky for you because it’s a¬†cluster of consonants.

So the /s/ the /t/ sounds need to come together, right? So you can probably make those sounds separately but what about if you push them together? Make sure that I can hear that T, please. I want to hear that air stop. Okay now put it all together.

That’s another tongue twister¬†for you to practise this week Christmas!¬†Challenge yourself to say that as many times¬†as possible without messing that up!

Christmas spirit

Now you might also hear people saying that they are¬†in the Christmas spirit.¬†Someone who is in the Christmas spirit is feeling¬†excited and really happy about the holidays,¬†excited about seeing friends and family and¬†decorating the house and planning celebrations.¬†So you can use this expression when someone is¬†doing an action that’s particularly generous or giving¬†like if a colleague brought some mince pies¬†to share with everyone at work to celebrate Christmas.¬†What a generous gesture!

You could say ‚ÄúYou’re in the Christmas spirit!‚Äú

If you don’t know what mince pies are, I made a video¬†about it here a couple of Christmases ago.¬†Now since Christmas ends in the /s/ consonant,¬†the same sound that ‚Äėspirit’ starts with,¬†then you can link those two sounds together¬†so the whole phrase sounds more like one word.

This sounds like Christmas spirit. 

So those two consonant sounds, because they’re the¬†same, we don’t need to pronounce them twice.¬†They just pull together.


But what if you’re not in the Christmas spirit?¬†I’m sure some of you might know someone who¬†can be quite grumpy at Christmas. They don’t really like¬†that time of year. They don’t like Christmas¬†and we call those people Scrooges¬†in an affectionate way. A Scrooge.

So the word ‚ÄėScrooge’ is actually the name of a¬†really grumpy man in a famous Christmas story called¬†A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.¬†In the story, the main character, Scrooge, hates¬†everything about Christmas and he does his best to¬†avoid all of the celebrating,¬†all of the happiness of the holidays.

Now over time, it’s become really common to call¬†anyone who is anti-Christmas, who doesn’t really like¬†Christmas, a Scrooge.

Are you a Christmas Scrooge?¬†It’s okay, you can admit it!¬†Sometimes I’m a bit of a Scrooge.

So to say this word is a little challenging.¬†It’s an invented name so it’s a bit of a strange word¬†but you’ll hear it all the time at this time of year.¬†Make sure you practise the /sk/ consonant cluster¬†on its own before you even think about adding¬†the rest of it.¬†So hear that sound tapping at the back of my mouth¬†playing with that air as it’s coming through.¬†So there’s that sound.¬†Everything’s pretty tight in my mouth there.¬†So we end up with that¬†shape from the vowel sound.¬†So then you need to add the consonant sound¬†like in ‚Äėjam’.

Now that you can say the name, you can tell someone¬†‚ÄúCome on! Don’t be such a Scrooge!‚ÄĚ

Remember, it’s usually meant as an affectionate insult,¬†if that’s possible. It’s not really meant to be rude.¬†Usually, people who are Scrooges are¬†completely okay about it, they accept it.¬†So do you know anyone who’s a Christmas Scrooge?¬†Maybe don’t name them in the comments¬†but share your stories about them if you want.

The more the merrier!

We already know that ‚Äėmerry’ is a synonym for happy¬†so it can also mean lively, cheerful and even¬†a little bit drunk. You’re happily drunk.¬†So when it comes to Christmas parties and celebrations¬†usually the more the merrier.¬†The more people that come, the happier¬†and the more fun the event will be.

You can use this expression to say everyone’s welcome¬†and although this expression is a way¬†to invite people to a Christmas party,¬†especially to say, you know,¬†bring your friends and family too¬†but this expression is common not only at Christmas.¬†You can use it at any time when you’re inviting people¬†to join in an activity.

Hey, can I bring my boyfriend to the party?
Sure, the more the merrier!

Can we join you guys at the movies?
Of course, the more the merrier! Everyone’s welcome.

So let’s say this one a few times together.¬†Both of these words are unstressed, so they reduce down and become the schwa sound.¬†The other words are content words. They’re stressed¬†and we hear them really clearly.

Stress that vowel sound there.¬†In my accent, you don’t hear the¬†consonant sound at the end.

Well hopefully this lesson helped you to get¬†in the Christmas spirit.¬†In English-speaking countries¬†and in lots of other countries around the world,¬†this is such a special time of year.¬†So if you’re celebrating¬†I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Now stick around for some extra practice coming up in just a moment but before we get there,¬†make sure you subscribe to the mmmEnglish family here on YouTube, if you haven’t already.¬†The more the merrier!¬†Click that red button right there.¬†Now let’s go practise!

Shah: Hi.
Emma: Hey!
Shah: What are you up to?
Emma: I am just finishing some last-minute Christmas wrapping.
Shah: Presents!
Emma: Yes a few last presents to wrap before the big day.
Shah: Who are your presents for?
Emma:¬†Mostly for friends actually, I’m not spending Christmas¬†with my family this year so¬†most of these presents are for my friends.

What are you up to for Christmas?

This year I’m having a pretty quiet one actually.¬†I’m not going back to Melbourne. Normally I fly home¬†to Melbourne where all of my family lives.¬†This year I’m not. My family’s coming over to visit me¬†in Perth after New Year’s so¬†I’m just having a really quiet relaxed Christmas this year¬†and not doing a lot of the crazy running around¬†and preparing, organising everything that¬†usually happens.

What do you normally do for Christmas?

Well, normally I am back in Melbourne and my family,¬†I have quite a big family,¬†all of my cousins and my aunties and uncles¬†and my grandparents are usually there.¬†And so we have a big lunch or a big dinner and¬†sort of give each other presents and¬†it’s a really good opportunity to catch up because¬†now all of my cousins have grown up,¬†we’re all adults, we don’t see each other that much¬†so it’s a really great chance to catch up.

What are you up to for Christmas?

I’m actually really glad that you asked that question¬†because it’s one that comes up all the time¬†around this time of year, particularly in English-speaking¬†countries where everyone is celebrating Christmas¬†or at least everyone gets time off work at that time of year.

So even if you’re not celebrating Christmas¬†or you don’t really, you know, believe in Christmas¬†and you don’t sort of spend time celebrating¬†at that time of year,¬†it’s still a time when you get days off work and you know¬†here in Australia, at least, it’s really great weather.¬†Everyone really makes the most of that opportunity to¬†you know, catch up, with family or friends¬†and that kind of thing.

So when you get asked this question:¬†‚ÄúWhat are you doing at Christmas?‚ÄĚ or¬†‚ÄúHave you got any plans at Christmas?‚Ä̬†It can be asked in so many different ways.¬†There are so many different¬†questions that can get asked¬†but actually, the answer to all of them¬†is exactly the same.

  • So what are your plans over Christmas?
  • What’s going on for Christmas?
  • Where are you going over Christmas?
  • Where are you guys going for Christmas?
  • What are you doing for Christmas this year?
  • What are you doing for Christmas?
  • What do you normally do for Christmas?
  • What are you up to for Christmas?
  • What are your plans this Christmas?

So when you get asked this question, it’s not so much¬†specifically what you’re doing on Christmas Day¬†even if, you know, you’re not actually celebrating.¬†It’s talking about this period of time¬†around the Christmas holidays so it could be¬†you know, from anywhere around the 21st of December¬†through to the 2nd or 3rd of January, depending on¬†you know, when the public holidays are.¬†This time of year, it’s because everyone’s got¬†time off work, they’re, you know, often going on holidays¬†or doing special things¬†whether they’re related to Christmas or not.

So if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you know, it’s easy to answer this question as well. You can simply say:

  • ‚ÄúI don’t celebrate Christmas‚ÄĚ
  • or ‚ÄúWe’re not really into Christmas, but we’re doing this instead or we’re going to visit family.‚ÄĚ
  • or ‚ÄúWe’re taking advantage of the holidays¬†and we’re going to Italy.‚ÄĚ

Something like that.

So even if you don’t celebrate Christmas,¬†you can easily answer this question,¬†you just need to have a couple of ideas at the ready.¬†Some of the things you might say are¬†where you’re going,¬†who you’re doing it with,¬†whether it’s friends or family,¬†whether it’s a big celebration or not, whether it’s¬†low key or you’re having a quiet one like me.¬†And also, you know, what your plans are,¬†what types of things you’ll be doing,¬†what activities you’ll be doing,¬†whether you’re staying at home, whether you’re¬†travelling to somewhere else.

So any of these ideas are things that you can talk about¬†when you answer that question¬†and if you’re like me this year¬†and you’re doing something a little different to what¬†you usually do then answering this question¬†by contrasting or comparing the way that you¬†usually celebrate with what you’re doing this year is¬†also the perfect way to answer this question.

So for me, I usually fly home and I visit my family¬†and we have a big Christmas celebration¬†but this year I’m having a quiet one¬†and my family are actually coming to visit me.¬†So it’s a little different and I can talk about the¬†difference in that answer.

So I’m curious, what have you got planned this Christmas?¬†What are you doing with your family over the holidays?¬†I’m really interested to find out.

I’m sure we have completely different ways¬†of celebrating all around the world¬†but I want you to try and answer that question¬†using the tips and advice that I gave¬†during this little extra bonus section of this lesson. So try and tell me what you’re doing,¬†where you’re doing it, who you’re doing it with,¬†what you’re eating,¬†if you’re celebrating ‚Äď particularly if you’re celebrating¬†in a religious way. If you’re not celebrating,¬†tell me what you’ll be doing instead¬†or what you usually do at this time of year.¬†I’m really interested to find out.

Well, I hope that you enjoyed that lesson¬†and that you’ve got a few new expressions to use¬†this year at Christmas time.¬†If you enjoyed this lesson then make sure you subscribe¬†to the mmmEnglish channel by clicking that red button¬†just down there.¬†If you want to keep watching some more Christmas¬†related videos, I’ve got a few others right here.¬†So I’ll see you in the next lesson!

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