Category Archives: trifle

Expressions and Vocabulary


There are a few words that are ‘thrown around’ this time of year that

I was not completely sure of and wanted to know more about them. I hope

you will put up with another post about Christmas! I just love this time

of year and all the festivities and wonder!

These are words or phrases that I thought I knew but ‘missed the mark’

and learned more about the complete definitions and explanations.

1.) Did you know in the original “Twelve Days of Christmas” that the

Four _________ Birds were not “Calling Birds?” The original English

version calls these birds, “colly birds!” In 1780, this song was

included in a book, entitled, “Mirth without Mischief.” The birds

can be interchangeable in their names. So, we now sing the more

common and the other name is long out of practice.

2.) wassail- noun. 1. An early English toast to someone’s health.

2. A liquor made of ale or wine, spices and often baked apples

served in a large punch bowl, usually at Christmas. 3. Riotous


I wondered why people could go “wassailing” when it was all about

toasting, drinking and having a riot of a celebration? The word

eventually meant to go caroling.

3.) When they say, “We will bring some ‘figgy pudding’ I wondered

what this entailed, also.

By using the definition of “fig” you will find the word “trifle”

within it. A trifle can be a cake or treat…

fig- noun. 1. Usually edible oblong or pear-shaped fruit of a tree

of the mulberry family. Also: A tree bearing figs. 2. Trifle.

(Cake layered dessert.) I also could see that when you say, “I don’t

give a fig about it!” that is a trifle amount. So, there!

4.) myrrh- noun. A brown, slightly bitter aromatic gum resin obtained

from African and Arabian trees and used especially in perfumes or

formerly, in incense. (This is one of the Gifts of the Magi, the

Three Wise Men, who by the way, are not really numerated as “three”

in the Bible!)

5.) I know this is silly but I wondered if people ‘boxed’ on Boxing

Day, this is celebrated in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada

on December 26th! I mean I wrote it on my December calendar but did

not know the meaning of “Boxing Day!” It is a postal holiday that

is observed as a ‘legal holiday’ in parts of the British Commonwealth,

coming from a historical point of view, when they would give the

postmen Christmas boxes for their service as gifts.

6.) In ancient England, kisses were given under the mistletoe as a

ceremonial act of ending grievances! I looked up the definition

and this is not included in my Brittanica-Webster Dictionary!

mistletoe- noun. A green plant with yellowish flowers and waxy,

white berries that grows on the branches and trunks of trees.

In another book, I found out that the word “toe = twig.”

Sprigs over doors were symbolizing Peace to guests; not exactly

the romantic way that we picture it in today’s customs!

7.) Someone at work asked me to look up “partridge” and explain

why this is used as the First day of Christmas. I could not find

why it is the type of bird used, but here is the definition that

did have a pleasant, sweet looking drawing accompanied with it.

partridge- noun. Any of several stout-bodied Old World game birds

related to the common domestic fowl. In North America, a similar

looking bird is called the ‘bob-white’ or ruffed grouse.

8.) turtledove- noun. Any of several small wild pigeons especially

of an Old World genus, noted for cooing.

Both the partridge and turtledove are acknowledged as “Old World”

birds, so interesting to me!

9.) courser- noun. A swift or spirited horse.

No mention of a reindeer but this was the question that my 9 year

old grandson asked, “What are coursers?” while I was reading the

“Twas the Night Before Christmas” book.

10.) frankincense- noun. A fragrant gum resin from African or Arabian

trees that is burned as incense.

This definition sounds familiar, hmmm! the same as “myrrh” in most of

the words chosen to define these.

Last but not numbered, I learned a fascinating tradition about the

Yule Log:

Once this was a popular tradition, but rarely continued among the

‘regular’ people these days. It originated in medieval days, when

Yule logs were chosen on a specific date: February 2nd. This log

would be held in a location until New Year’s Eve of that same year.

So, once the log was chosen, it was protected and kept in a special

place of honor. It was dried outside from winter, through all the

seasons, until December 31st. This was a family custom that has

gone by the wayside. I think it would be a wonderful one to start

again, because it has a purpose! It becomes a forgiving force of


Here is how it goes… A piece of this log becomes the way to light

the “yule fire.” The directions say to use this piece of the saved

log as a “foundation of the Yule fire.” Nowadays, to continue this

or renew this meaning as a family tradition, it would include any

log could be used along with decorating it with ribbons or using

chemicals to produce colored flames.

Burning this to “ash” all the bad feeling or hard times of the

past year away. This previous year could also be considered by

writing notes on pieces of paper, folding them, with the content

meant to be the bad feelings, illnesses or hard times family

members experienced. By writing them, then folding them up

and throwing them upon the fire, any problems, quarrels or

grudges may be forgotten.

In France, the bakers in bakeries make delicious cakes that

are called, buche de Noel.” The cakes are in the shape of a

Yule log. Knowing how I love French pastries, I am sure this

would be scrumptious! I would like to have this on New Year’s