White Christmas

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Dec 12 22:50:30 UTC 2005

OED has "white Christmas" from 1857.  An ECCO search turns up no 18th C. exx.  I find that rather surprising.


"Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Baker, John"
Subject: Re: White Christmas

I had not previously heard "A green Christmas means [or makes] a
full churchyard." In P. Thompson, The History and Antiquities of Boston
735 (1856) (via Making of America): ""A green Christmas" foretells a
sickly season, and a "fat churchyard.""

>From The Living Age (Jan. 1858) (via Making of America): "The
weather was mild as the year died away, and we had a "green Christmas,"
yet the place was healthy, and no deaths, thus falsifying an old

If it really is an English saying, then there must be older
cites available from the other side of the puddle.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of sagehen
Sent: Monday, December 12, 2005 1:56 PM
Subject: Re: White Christmas

> 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
>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
>>>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

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