Why do we say ‘Tis the season?

by IELTS Australasia — November 20th, 2018

When it comes to English idioms, you’ll probably understand every word but you might have trouble interpreting the meaning. In our idioms series, we’ll dig deeper to understand what is behind some common phrases. This time, we’ll look at why we say ’Tis the Season, the definition, meaning and origins.

Meaning of ‘Tis the season

‘Tis the Season is often used to indicate that it’s a particular time of year. The “season” in this phrase refers to the time of year that spans from late November, after American Thanksgiving, to January 6.

’Tis the Season or T’is the season?

’Tis is a contraction of it isThe apostrophe here replaces the “i” of “it”. A similar contraction is ’twas for “it was”, as in “’Twas the night before Christmas.”

  • Correct: ’Tis the season
  • Incorrect: T’is the season (because the apostrophe is in the wrong place)

Origins of ‘Tis the Season

The phrase has its origins in a 1862 Christmas carol, “Deck the Halls.” The song dates back to the sixteenth century. It wasn’t always associated with Christmas: the melody comes from a Welsh winter song called “Nos Galan,” which is actually about New Year’s Eve. In this song, you can hear the lyrics:

Deck the hall with boughs of holly, fa la la la la, la la la la. ’Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la, la la la la.

During this festive season, several holidays, including Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, are celebrated. With many of these holidays focused on gift giving and fun, this time of year has become known as the ‘holiday season’. Particularly in Western cultures, people view holiday season as a time to be jolly (which means fun or cheerful) as you can see from the lyrics of the carol.

Play video
Play Deck the Halls with lyrics

How to use ‘Tis the Season’ in a sentence?

Now that you know that ’tis the season means and where it comes from, let’s have a look at how you can use this in a sentence (or even in your IELTS Speaking test).

  • “I can’t wait for some time off work.” “Yes, I know! ‘Tis the season.”
  • ‘Tis the season to celebrate with family and friends

But be careful: outside of this phrase, it’s is rarely seen in writing or heard in speech.

‘Tis the season for some fun facts about “Deck the Halls”

Fun fact 1:

If you have listened to the song, you may have come across some outdated words and phrases. These are still proper English words, but we don’t use them very often anymore in everyday speech. Do you know what these phrases mean? (Don’t worry, we’ve provided the answers below)

  • “Boughs of holly”
  • “Don we now our gay apparel”
  • “Troll the ancient yuletide carol”
  • “Hail the new, you lads and lasses”
Fun fact 2:

The original “Deck the Halls” song contained a reference to drinking alcohol with the line “Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel,” but reference has since been replaced by the line “Don we now our gay apparel”.

Fun fact 3:

Ok, this is a not-so-fun fact. When you sing “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” we are referring to decorating the walls with branches of holly – with thorny leaves and bright red berries. These berries are somewhat toxic when ingested by people. The fatal dose is estimated to be around twenty berries for adults, so stay away from the berries if you want a merry festive season.

Fun fact 4:

Harry Potter! Now, what does the famous wizard from J.K. Rowling’s books have to do with ’tis the season? Funny you should ask. Remember decking the halls with boughs of holly? In the Harry Potter novels, “holly” is used as the wood in Harry’s wand. This is an interesting fact you can share with friends and family during the festive season.

Fun fact 1: Answers
Meaning of "Boughs of holly"

bough is a large branch from a tree. The holly is an is an evergreen tree or shrub, usually with sharp, pointy leaves and bright red berries. So, when you “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” you decorate a space with branches of the holly.

Meaning of "Don we now our gay apparel"

The verb “to don” means to “get dressed in” or “dress (oneself) in”. The word “gay” is a homonym (a word that shares the same written form as another word but has a different meaning). Traditionally, this word was used to indicated that someone is cheery, merry, jolly, or light-hearted.

So, when you don your gay apparel, you get dressed in cheery clothes.

Meaning of "Troll the ancient yuletide carol"

When you read the word “troll,” you can be forgiven for thinking about a mythical creature or someone who makes random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on the internet. This makes the word “troll” also a homonym. Traditionally, it meant “to sing in a full, rolling voice.” Yule or Yuletide was a pagan festival which was later absorbed into the Christian festival of Christmas.

So, “troll the ancient yuletide carol” means loudly singing a Christmas carol.

Meaning of "Hail the new, you lads and lasses"

Hail, as a noun, are small, hard balls of ice that fall from the sky like rain. But “hail” as a verb means to call someone/something in order to attract their attention (you can hail a taxi, for example). To “hail the new” is calling out for the New Year. Lads means a group of (young) man. Lasses are a group of (young) women.

Therefore, “hail the new, you lads and lasses” means to “call/wish for the New Year, guys and girls.”

From all of us at IELTS: We wish you a safe and happy festive season!

(and we hope you get to enjoy at least one of the 5 reasons to love Christmas in Australia)

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