A Pronunciation Guide to an English Christmas.
What do the English say, eat and do at Christmas? Apart from overindulging in food and drink, there’s time for boiling spices, singing, kissing, decorating the tree, sending cards, an Irish ballad, shopping, and possibly the Queen’s address. Phew! Here is the Pronunciation Studio guide to Christmas in England.
Christmas lights in the High Street, advent calendars /ˈædvəŋʔ kæləndəz/ for the kids and Mulled Wine /ˈmʌɫd ˈwaɪn/ (a warm wine spiced with cinnamon /ˈsɪnəmən/ and fortified with Sloe Gin) on the go. It’s time to get the Christmas Tree /ˈkrɪsməs triː/ up, which is usually an Evergreen fir /ˈevəgriːn ˈfɜː/, whose needles /niːdəɫz/ will prick you for the next month, finish the decorations off with fairy lights /ˈfeəri laɪts/ and an angel /ˈeɪndʒəɫ/ on the top.
If you find yourself standing underneath Mistletoe /ˈmɪsɫtəʊ/ (a kind of leathery green parasitic plant) you may also find someone trying to kiss you, though exactly where this custom originates from is unclear. Christmas cards are a popular way of keeping in touch with people you never usually speak to, about 900 million are sold each year, but you’ll need to send them by the 21st December, because the Royal Mail is very busy.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of December in England is the constant rotation of insipid Christmas songs, Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everyone” instantly rings out when you enter a shop, followed by Wham’s “Last Christmas”, Wizard’s “I wish it could be Christmas everyday”, the only slight respite being the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” /ˈfeəriteɪɫ əv ˈnjuː ˈjɔːk/ Irish folk ballad.
You’ve probably seen at least one group of Carol Singers /ˈkærəɫ sɪŋəz/ around, ploughing through the classics: O Come All Ye Faithful /əʊ ˈkʌm ɔːɫ ji ˈfeɪθfəɫ/, Silent Night /ˈsaɪlənʔ ˈnaɪt/, Good King Wenceslas /ˈgʊd kɪŋ ˈwensəslæs/ and some less religious offerings in the form of Jingle Bells /ˈdʒɪŋgɫ beɫz/ and We Wish you a Merry Christmas /wi ˈwɪʃ ju ə ˈmeri ˈkrɪsməs/ (dating from the 16th Century).
Travel chaos, last minute shopping and a proper start to festivities. It’s Christmas Eve /ˈkrɪsməs ˈiːv/ and the Christmas carols will be on the TV from Cambridge cathedral /ˈkeɪmbrɪdʒ kəˈθiːdrəɫ/. What do the English eat on Christmas Eve? The truth is that there is no standard modern habit, in my household it is normally fish, but every house will have its own custom.
It’s time to get the mince pies /ˈmɪns ˈpaɪz/ out (traditionally meat, fruit and spice, but these days without the meat) – don’t forget to leave some out with a glass of brandy for Father Christmas /ˈfɑːðə ˈkrɪsməs/ on the fireplace /ˈfaɪəpleɪs/, otherwise he won’t wriggle down the chimney to leave your presents. On the telly you’ll find a popular Christmas classic, like ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ /ɪts ə ˈwʌndəfəɫ ˈlaɪf/ or Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Finally it’s arrived, but it’s probably not a white Christmas (currently only 25% chance) . Hopefully someone remembered to get the Turkey /ˈtɜːki/ out of the freezer (though in many households chicken /ˈtʃɪkɪn/ or other roast meats are common, nut roast /ˈnʌʔ rəʊst/ if it’s a veggie feast). Before the big lunch, it’s time to open presents /ˈprezənts/ and show (probably fake) surprise and delight. “Wow, this (insert useless gift) is exactly what I’ve always wanted!” /ˈ↘waʊ | ðɪs ɪz ɪgˈzækli wɒt aɪv ˈɔːweɪz ↘wɒntɪd/.
Once the pressies are out of the way, the dinner’s probably ready – a roast with “all the trimmings” /ɔːɫ ðə trɪmɪŋz/. What’s on the table? Cranberry sauce /ˈkræmbri ˈsɔːs/, stuffing /ˈstʌfɪŋ/ (a mixture of onion, sage /ˈseɪdʒ/, nuts and whatever else you want to throw in), brussel sprouts /ˈbrʌsəɫ ˈsprauts/, roast potatoes /ˈrəʊs pəˈteɪtəʊz/, parsnips /ˈpɑ:snɪps/, and don’t forget the gravy /ˈgreɪvi/.
During Christmas dinner, you’ll almost certainly have to pull a Christmas Cracker /ˈkrɪsməs ˈkrækə/ – a kind of oversized bonbon complete with explosive, inside which you’ll find a Christmas hat, a Christmas Joke and a tacky toy. Everyone then has the opportunity to read their joke aloud, something like:
A Who is Santa Claus’s favourite singer?
B Elf-is Presley.
For more unfunny Christmas jokes, see our 3 Christmas card designs.
Then it’s time for your family’s pyromaniac /ˌpaɪrəˈmeɪniæk/ to spark into action (there’s always one), because in England we dowse our Christmas pudding /ˈkrɪsməs ˈpʊdɪŋ/ with brandy, then set it on fire. After dinner, settle down to a nice film, and then The Queen’s Speech /ðə ˈkwiːnz ˈspiːtʃ/ on the BBC, which was the most viewed program last Christmas at nearly 8 million viewers.
What exactly is Boxing Day /ˈbɒksɪŋ deɪ/? The origins aren’t clear, but it’s certain that servants and tradesmen were traditionally given a Christmas ‘box’ – a gift of some sort from their employer the day after Christmas. The key to pronouncing it correctly is to put the stress on ‘Boxing’ (whereas with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the stress is on the second word). These days the name is quite apt – box away (probably forever) all those gifts you opened and will never use again. It’s also the start of all the Christmas Sales /krɪsməs seɪɫz/, so back to normal then.