What Does ‘Yuletide’ Actually Mean, Anyway?


There are certain words and phrases we always expect to hear around Christmas. One of the most common is ‘yuletide.’ Here’s where it from.

We hear the word yuletide every year right on cue. As we get closer to Christmas, it’s practically a mathematical certainty that we’ll hear the word.

In fact, when you listen to some of the all-time favorite Christmas songs, you’ll hear the word.

A line in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” tells us to “Make the Yuletide gay” and then promises that “from now on, our troubles would be miles away.” Would that it were always so.

Meanwhile, “The Christmas Song” has this famous lyric:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir

And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

The songs “Deck the Halls” and “Christmastime is Here” — and others — also include the word. Whether we know where it came from, we certainly hear it often enough, don’t we?

So here’s where the word comes from.

Anytime I’m curious about the origin of a word, the first place I go is the Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymology refers tot he study of the true sense of a word’s meaning. Etymologists study how words entered the language, their original meanings and, of course, how those meanings may change in different languages.

If I look up yuletide, it refers me to two words: yule and — you guessed it! — tide.

Yule comes from the Old English and Old Norse words that originally defined a heathen winter festival. Christianity eventually took over the word, converting it over the years to a reference to Christmas. OED points out the word, once in Christian hands, referred first to “‘the 12-day feast of the Nativity’ (which began Dec. 25).” By the 11th century, the word came to mean Christmas itself.

One of the first things you notice in that definition is that it means “Christmas” or “Christmastide.”

Christmastide? Wait a second…what’s that?

That takes us to the definition of tide. It tells us the word came from the Old English tīd, meaning a “point or portion of time, due time, period, season; feast-day, canonical hour.”

Christmastide means Christmastime.

Yule means Christmas. Tide means time.

Therefore, Yuletide and Christmastime refer to the same thing.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, some other holiday or none at all, I hope the holiday season is a pleasant one for you.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.