Friday, November 25, 2022

English Christmas Traditions and the Dual Nature of the Language

The winter holiday season is a great time to demonstrate to students the "split personality" of the English language -- its Germanic/Celtic nature of plus its Latin/French roots.

Every country and climate has its own Christmas or solstice celebration, usually featuring the colorful local plants available in that climate and traditional lights to illuminate the longest night of the year.  In the English-speaking world, Christmas is a Christian holiday brought to England by the Romans. However many of the traditions and celebrations are inherited from the area's older, winter solistice celebration: holly, ivy, mistletoe, a Yule log.

Consider the dual etymologies of the following vocabulary:
    "eat" vs "dine"
    "drink" vs "imbibe"
    "drink to" vs "toast"
    "bestow" vs "donate"
    "give" vs "confer"
    "make merry" vs "celebrate"
    "have fun" vs "revel"
    "bedeck" vs "decorate"
    "bell" vs "chime"
    "sing" vs "chant" 

This year, I chose "Jingle Bells", "Deck the Halls" and "Auld Lang Syne" as the best representatives of seasonal songs to teach my bricks-and-mortar class.  They have a few "old-fashioned" words which need to be explained.  But I forgot that I simply cannot carry a tune.  Without a room full of students who already knew the tune, the singing effort turned into a sort of dull roar. 

Next year I'll try "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". I can read that one as a poem.

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