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White Christmas

  • The seasonal expression white Christmas may be confusing to some. It has a fairly literal meaning, but may also be considered an idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as kick the bucket, barking up the wrong tree and piece of cake, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the Christmas season expression white Christmas, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    In its most literal use, the term white Christmas simply means a weather event in which it either snows on Christmas Day, or there is enough snow from a previous snowfall to cover the ground on Christmas day. In the United States, the definition of a white Christmas is a Christmas Day in which there is at least one inch of snow on the ground at 7 a.m. local time. In the United Kingdom, the holiday is officially considered a white Christmas if there is snow falling sometime during the twenty-four hours of Christmas Day, whether or not the snow melts upon impact. Hoping for a white Christmas may be one of those Christmas traditions that has been fueled through literature and motion pictures, as for much of the world, Christmas Day falls during their summer. The idea of a white Christmas goes back at least to the 1840s, but the term took on the role of an idiom when it was popularized during World War II with a song of the same name written for the holiday season by songwriter Irving Berlin. The song White Christmas was first performed in 1942 on the radio by Bing Crosby. The United States had been attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and had entered the war. Many young American men were in the armed forces or were about to join the armed forces, and travel into danger far away from home. The lyrics of the song White Christmas are a nostalgic recall of homey traditions at Christmas time, and the term white Christmas came to mean being home and in indulging in family traditions at Christmas. Unlike hymns like O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels, or traditional Christmas music like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, the Twelve Days of Christmas or  I Saw Three Ships, or children’s songs like Here Comes Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, White Christmas speaks to the personal experience of the holiday and a longing to be home for Christmas. The song was included in a movie called Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Marjorie Reynolds. About a decade later, the movie White Christmas was filmed starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. White Christmas is one of the top Christmas songs of all time, and a rendition has been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Michael Bolton and many, many others. The first verse begins: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know / Where the treetops glisten and children listen / To hear sleigh bells in the snow.” Note that when referring to the song or movie, White Christmas is capitalized. When referring to a weather phenomenon, only the word Christmas is capitalized, as in white Christmas.

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    Examples

    For many families, gathering together at Christmastime isn’t complete without watching Christmas movies and while tastes vary, it’s hard to dispute the lasting charm of the classic Bing Crosby film “White Christmas.” (The Times Record News)

    For the “White Christmas” obsessives among us, the internet has opened rabbit holes: We can report that co-star Vera-Ellen does, in fact, wear turtlenecks in every single scene — the fan theory is that an eating disorder prematurely wrinkled her neck. (The Morning Call)

    BRITAIN braces for a white Christmas this year as the Met Office said parts of Britain will get snow after a five-day Icelandic blast this week. (The Sun)


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