White Christmas

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Dec 12 19:16:58 UTC 2005

>  >        How old is "white Christmas"?  The phrase's current popularity,
>>of course, derives from the 1937 Irving Berlin song, but he did not coin
>>it.  In Nancy: A Novel, by Rhoda Broughton (1874) (via Making of
>>America), we read "It is Christmas-day - a clean white Christmas, pure
>>and crisp."
>>         That 1874 quotation, with "white" mixed in with other
>>adjectives, made me wonder if the usage was the same as our standardized
>>term.  There's no doubt about this example from 1878, from Appletons'
>>Journal (Dec. 1878) (also via Making of America):  "Once she lifted the
>>closed curtain and looked out; snow was still falling.  It was to be a
>>white Christmas, and people had said all day that if the storm did not
>>abate by nightfall there could be few carols sung this year."
>>         "White Christmas" still had currency when Berlin wrote the song.
>>>>From the 12/24/1934 New Yorker (reprinted in The Complete New Yorker):
>>"For once, it looks like we might have a white Christmas."  This is the
>>caption of a cartoon; the speaker is the father of an African-American
>>family, looking out the window.
>>John Baker
>Its origins are probably Old World, given the old saying that a green
>Christmas means a full churchyard.  It must have arisen in contrast to the
>notion that a healthier season would need enough winter weather by
>Christmastime to arrest some diseases.
>A. Murie

Then there's the rhyme I heard recited in France-

"Noël au balcon, Pâques aus tisons"

meaning that if you get to spend Christmas out on the balcony, you'll
be spending Easter around the fireplace (lit. "at the embers").  I
guess it's their version of the law of Groundhog Day.


More information about the Ads-l mailing list