What Does “‘Tis the Season” Mean and Why Do We Say It?

You’ll often hear the phrase ‘tis the season during the holidays – such as in Christmas carols, cards, and advertisements. ‘Tis the season has become so frequently used that we tend to overlook its meaning. How does that popular phrase actually relate to the Christmas season? Why do we say ‘tis the season during the holiday season, anyway? Let’s explore this Christmas saying together.

What Is the Origin of ‘Tis the Season?

The cultural popularity of saying ‘tis the season originated from the lyrics of the song “Deck the Halls,” a Christmas carol that was based on an old Welsh song and given English lyrics in 1862. One of the lyrics of “Deck the Halls” is: “‘Tis the season to be jolly.” During the 1800s, many people used the word ‘tis in conversations, as an abbreviation of the phrase “it is.” ‘Tis was used in conversational English from the 1400s on, but is not often used today other than in the phrase ‘tis the season, which has become a tradition to say during the Christmas holidays.

Why Do We Say ‘Tis the Season?

Saying ‘tis the season serves as a catchphrase we can use to express our thoughts and feelings about everything that’s a part of the Christmas season. We say it because we want to differentiate what’s special to us about the time of year when the world is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The phrase can help us highlight whichever aspects of Christmas we want to discuss. Used positively, we could say “‘tis the season for something we enjoy, such as Christmas lights, eggnog, Christmas carols, nativity scenes, chocolate Santa candy, etc. in order to justify our pursuit of it. Used negatively, we could say “‘tis the season for something we don’t like about the holiday season, such as materialism, schedule pressures, ugly Christmas sweaters, bragging in Christmas letters and on social media, and conflict at family gatherings.

So, we say ‘tis the season when we want to emphasize an aspect of the Christmas season in conversation. We often toss that phrase out because we enjoy Christmas traditions. While we don’t normally use the word ‘tis in non-holiday conversations, using it during the Christmas holidays sounds special, so saying it can simply be fun.

A key way we may misuse the phrase ‘tis the season is by implying that the Christmas season is the only time to pursue Christmas values, such as awe, joy, and generosity. Saying ‘tis the season now can make it seem as if we’re excluding other seasons from what we’re celebrating. From God’s perspective, it’s always the season to focus on the values of our faith. For instance, we can discover awe-inspiring moments in every season of our lives. My book Wake Up to Wonder shows how we can experience awe on a regular basis – not just on special occasions like holidays. Day by day, we can discover wonder from praying and meditating, enjoying nature, waking up our senses, pursuing lifelong learning, and much more. The excitement of encountering God’s wonder is possible at all times – not just when we’re singing a carol, gazing at a Christmas tree, or baking Christmas cookies. Whenever the Christmas season is over, and the saying ‘tis the season fades away from our culture until the next holiday season, it is still the season to enjoy the wonder of God’s work in our lives! Likewise, we can pursue other Christmas season values every day – not just during the holiday season. We can seek joy and celebrate it every day of our lives. From laughing with our friends to playing with our children and pets, we have plenty of opportunities to find joy daily. We can also help others generously anytime. God calls us to use our talents, time, energy, and money to serve people in need regularly – not only during the holidays. It’s the same with every value we celebrate at Christmas.

So, let’s be careful not to limit ourselves when we say ‘tis the season since there really aren’t any limits on when we can enjoy the values that the Christmas season celebrates. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that the phrase ‘tis the season applies best to seasonal activities, rather than to values. It’s accurate to say, for example, “‘tis the season for Christmas shopping,” but when saying that we should keep in mind that giving generously is an important value all year long.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Kerkez 

Is Saying ‘Tis the Season Biblical?

The saying ‘tis the season is not in the Bible. However, the Bible does mention the concept of seasons for different types of activities.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes many examples of seasonal activities: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” This verse makes it clear that God has wisely appointed the best timing for all sorts of human activities. Why? Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares, “He has made everything beautiful in its time...”. God has a good purpose in mind for the timing of everything, designating certain seasons for people to best experience the beauty of them.

2 Timothy 4:2 charges us to, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” We should always be ready – both in and out of season (when it’s convenient and when it’s not convenient) – to share the Gospel message with other people. This verse shows that we shouldn’t let concerns about what season it is stop us from doing what God calls us to do.

We can be inspired by changing times and seasons to praise God, who determines them with wisdom. Daniel 2:20-21 proclaims, “… Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” We can be confident that, at all times and in all circumstances, God will guide us as we seek his wisdom.

So, when we say the phrase ‘tis the season during the Christmas season, we can let that remind us of the wonderful God who has made this holy season possible. We can celebrate the wisdom of God’s plan for humanity, and the centrality of Christmas in it. Then the meaning of the traditional saying ‘tis the season will come alive for us.

Photo Credit: ©Getty/subwaytree 

headshot of author Whitney HoplerWhitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter.


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