Holiday Vocabulary: Christmas and New Year’s Eve


A holiday is a special day of celebration or a day when most people do not have to work. In American English, the holiday season refers to the time from November until the beginning of January. Wishing someone a “happy holidays” is a polite and inclusive way of expressing seasonal greetings. If you want to learn more holiday or any English vocabulary, the English Island school in Atlanta features passionate ESL teachers who can work with your individual needs.


Christmas is the Christian holiday that honors the birth of Jesus Christ and is traditionally celebrated on December 25th. In the United States, Canada, and much of the English-speaking world, Christmas is both a religious and a secular holiday. Except for restaurants and retail stores, most businesses are closed. Many people engage in Christmas traditions, including decorating Christmas trees and exchanging gifts, even if they do not follow the Christian faith themselves.

Santa Claus

Santa is a legendary figure said to bring presents to children on or around Christmas. He is known by many names around the world, including Papa Noel and Father Christmas. In most American portrayals, he is a full-figured man with a long, white beard and travels via sleigh.


Hanukkah is an eight day Jewish holiday that is celebrated in either November or December. The exact dates vary from year to year because Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev of the traditional Hebrew calendar. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem following victory over Antiochus of Syria. Hanukkah is characterized chiefly by the lighting of the menorah (a special nine-branched candelabrum) on each day of the festival.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is a secular (non-religious) public holiday celebrated on the last day of the year – December 31st. Some people may get New Year’s Eve off from work or have a shortened work day. The following day, New Year’s Day, is a federal holiday, meaning most people do not have to work.


To celebrate the holiday, many people drink alcohol. Traditionally, glasses of champagne are poured before midnight. Once the clock strikes midnight, someone may offer a toast, a short speech after which attendees are encouraged to raise their glasses. Partygoers will then “cheers” each other (salud/kanpai/prost) and then drink. 

Ball drop/Countdown

A common expression around New Year’s Eve is “let’s watch the ball drop” or “we’re going to watch the ball drop.” This is in reference to a televised event where people gather in major cities, most famously New York City, for the countdown into the new year. New York City, Atlanta, and other cities construct a large tower where a ball or other object is slowly lowered from the top starting at one minute from midnight. People countdown the last minute (60 seconds) together to ring in the new year. The ball reaches the ground at exactly midnight.


In some social circles, it is common to kiss someone at midnight. This may be a family member, significant other, or close friend. Remember that not everyone does this, and it is important to make sure the person you are kissing is okay with it!