Festive Words

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I love the Christmas season. The process of decorating, choosing gifts with care, preparing seasonal food and spending time with friends and family really appeals to me. With that in mind, here are the origins of some popular seasonal words.


Meaning to adorn, decorate dates from the 16th century. However, its seasonal meaning of to deck with ornamental accessories dates from the 18th century. The word originates from the Latin decoratus (beautify).


This comes from the Old English misteltan via Old Norse and Old High German. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on trees and it’s been believed to have magical properties since the days of the Druids. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe dates from the Norse tale of Baldur and Frigga.


This dates from the 13th century and derives from Old Norse, with the same word existing in Old English. It originally referred to payment for a wife. The alternative present comes from 13th century Old French, meaning something which has been presented.


Tinsel is believed to have come from the Anglo Norman, with ancestors in Old French and was first seen in the expression tinsell saten. It means strips of shining metal used for ornament and also describes things that are showy and worthless.


Wreath derives from Old English, meaning a twisted band or coil. The more modern meaning of a garland of leaves or flowers dates from the 16th century.


The name for this type of guinea fowl originates in the 16th century. The name charts the history of the bird’s movement. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology the name of the country was applied to the bird because it was ‘brought to New Guinea by the Portuguese through Turkish dominions.’

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