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4 Confusing Holiday Terms

Updated on August 17, 2021Lifestyle

For many, the holiday season is a time of communication. Not only are we getting together with loved ones, but we also take additional time to greet others and get in touch with old friends.

Sometimes, however, it can be tough getting all the words right. Where should the apostrophe go in “Season’s Greetings”? Should you “ring in” or “bring in” the New Year? What in the world does “Bah, Humbug” mean?

If you’re a little confused, we’ve got you covered in this post.

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1 Season’s greetings or seasons greetings?

Looking for a general and inclusive way to greet others for the myriad of holidays in December? Whether it’s for Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, it’s usually safe to go with “Happy Holidays” when greeting people in person. “Season’s Greetings” is a warm tiding that works particularly well for written cards or in alternative holiday greetings.

But how exactly should it be formatted?

Here’s a tip: The correct formatting is “Season’s Greetings”—with the apostrophe.

When writing the phrase, it is standard English to place the apostrophe after the N and before the S in “seasons.”

The apostrophe tells us that the greetings are regarding the current season (and all the holidays in it.) Apostrophes mark possession, but the degree can vary, which makes “season’s greetings” a bit counter-intuitive The glad tidings don’t belong to the season in the same way that Frosty’s top hat belongs to him. Rather, the apostrophe in “season’s greetings” is more accurately equated to the word “of.”

2 Ring in the New Year

Is it “ring in the New Year” or “bring in the New Year”? Well, both.

The phrase “ring in the New Year” most likely derives from the tradition of bell-ringing to mark important events throughout life, like weddings or graduations. Bells are a common symbol of celebration and happiness during the holidays. Before you run out for some silver bells, consider the context. Over time the verb “ring” has come to imply more joyful welcoming than literal bell-ringing. Here are some examples of correct usage:

We plan to ring in the New Year with close friends. How will you ring in the New Year?

“Bring in the New Year” is also grammatically correct but likely a derivation of the idiomatic “ring in the New Year.” Nevertheless, it makes complete sense to “bring in” or welcome the coming year.

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3 Bah, Humbug!

Though many of us know this as the catchphrase of Charles Dickens’ curmudgeonly character Ebenezer Scrooge, “Bah! Humbug!” has much older origins.

“Humbug” traces back to student slang from the mid-1700s and referred to a person who behaved in a deceptive, tricky, or jest-like way. The term was in continual use into the 20th century to reference frauds, fakes, and phonies.

Perhaps the most popular usage of the word, however, is in Dickens’ novella and stage adaptations of A Christmas Carol. When the surly Mr. Scrooge exclaims “Bah! Humbug!” he is claiming that Christmas is fake.

This sort of grumbly attitude toward the holidays has been adopted tongue-in-cheek by pop culture and playful neighbors alike, usually to highlight excessiveness during the season or even to call out a party pooper.

4 Eat, drink, and be merry

As we join friends and family to celebrate holidays and welcome the New Year, we are often encouraged to “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry.” This seasonably appropriate instruction is directly from the Bible, but the original lesson doesn’t mean what you think it does.

“And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”

— Luke 12:19, The King James Bible

Out of context, this may seem like Jesus encouraging relaxation, food, drink, and merriment. While there are Biblical recommendations for celebration, this quote is taken from the Parable of the Rich Fool—a story Jesus shares as a warning against storing wealth and greed. Luke 12:19 is an excerpt from the rich farmer’s reasoning, not an instruction from Jesus.

Over time, however, the phrase “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” has been used increasingly in popular culture to encourage gratitude for and celebration of abundance. This common usage is entirely appropriate during the holidays, as we reflect on the last year and anticipate the future.

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