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Father Christmas or Santa Claus? (Photo; Fotolia)
Father Christmas or Santa Claus? (Photo; Fotolia)
Father Christmas or Santa Claus? (Photo; Fotolia)

As if getting to grips with a multitude of new Christmas customs wasn’t already a challenge for Brits in America, the language of Christmas is equally complex. Indeed, when I first moved to the United States in the winter of 2008, I became almost immediately the source of light-hearted ridicule for wording my festive greetings in a manner I had, until that point, assumed to be universal. How wrong I was. Here are five British Christmas words and phrases that are not widely used in the U.S.

Happy Christmas
If you grew up or spent a fair amount of time in the U.K., chances are you either used or received the greeting “Happy Christmas” on a routine basis around the holidays. And what could be more simple and cheerful than those two words? Well, in the United States, these same two words—though popularized in the U.S. by John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”—apparently sound unusual to an American ear. Instead, the phrases “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” are preferred.

Father Christmas
Of course, both countries identify the jolly giver of presents as “Santa Claus” or simply “Santa.” However, Brits might be just as accustomed to the more traditional title of “Father Christmas”—a tradition that, much to my initial surprise, does not extend across the pond. Moreover, Father Christmas and Santa Claus were not historically the same person. The name “Father Christmas” emerged during the 17th century as the personification of Christmas, surviving puritanical efforts to oust him with a resurgence in the Victorian age. Toward the end of the 19th century, Father Christmas became more akin to the American Santa Claus until eventually, both were seen as one and the same. As for the question of where Santa lives, let’s move on to the next entry.

Whether you call him Santa, St. Nick, or Father Christmas, there’s one thing we can all agree on: Father Christmas lives and works in Lapland. But this is isn’t true to the good people of the United States. Actually, not only is it not true, but most Americans will think you’ve been at the eggnog again if the word “Lapland” leaves your mouth. To them, Santa’s true home is the North Pole.

From the formal to the completely informal. The word “Chrimbo” (or sometimes “Crimbo”) is first attested from 1928, while the first recorded usage of the variant form “Crimble” is coincidentally attributed to a personality named previously in this article: John Lennon. The former Beatle can be heard saying it on the 1963 Beatles’ Fan Club Christmas record. However, make no mistake, expats; neither the word “Chrimbo” nor its variants are widely used in the U.S. and the deployment of these otherwise majestic words at an American Christmas function will likely be met with confusion, derision, laughter, or all of the above.

Boxing Day
In Britain (and several Commonwealth countries), Boxing Day is the day following Christmas and serves as a bank/public holiday. While the exact etymology of the phrase is unclear, it may have been named for the boxes that servants and tradesmen would receive from their employers at Christmas. Not only is the practice of Boxing Day not incorporated into the American Christmas calendar, but many Americans simply don’t recognize the phrase itself. Indeed, I’ve heard it inferred more than once that the word “boxing” is associated with the sport of the same name.

Join @MindTheGap_BBCA on Twitter Wednesday, December 17 from 2-3 pm ET using hashtag #MindTheChat to discuss American vs. British Christmas and holiday season traditions.

See more:
How to Have a British Christmas
British Treats You’ll Miss this Christmas
10 Classic ‘Christmas’ Songs That Will Remind Brits of Home
What NOT to Do at Christmas: A Guide for Brits

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By Laurence Brown