When Christmas is fast approaching, we often hear a plethora of greetings and sayings in our day to day activities. The once common “Merry Christmas” is now often replaced with “Happy Holidays” but have you ever heard the saying, “Make the Yuletide Gay”? If not, you’ve probably heard it sung in Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, at the least. What does “make the Yuletide gay” mean and how is it supposed to be used?
“Make the Yuletide Gay” simply means make the Yuletide season happy. Yuletide is historically a Germanic winter celebration that eventually became synonymous with Christmas. Meanwhile, “gay” is actually a traditional term that means happy before it ever was linked with homosexuality.
Though ‘Yuletide gay’ is not so common in greetings and goodbyes as many other Christmas sayings today, it’s possible you’ll encounter it at some point, even if it’s just hearing that Judy Garland Christmas song (sung by many others since her 1944 version). In that regard, let’s take a closer look at what is meant and how to use ‘make the Yuletide gay’.
What Does The Word Gay Mean In Make The Yuletide Gay?
As someone who’s studied languages for many years, I’m quite interested in etymology, cognates, and multiple meaning words. So it’s been interesting to look at the word gay and it’s change over the years.
The word ‘gay’ in “make the Yuletide gay” means cheerful and festive in reference to making the Christmas season happy. Over the years, ‘gay’ has changed to mean a proclivity towards ‘homosexual’ acts. Yet, it’s still acceptable to use the original ‘gay’ with context providing understanding.
Because of how we have recently equated gay with homosexuality, many people have started to wonder at the line in the famous holiday song, “make the Yuletide gay”. Children especially get confused as the original intention of the word ‘gay’ doesn’t align with their understanding.
This isn’t to say we should change the lyrics of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas“, the song written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for the MGM film with (and sung by) Judy Garland, Meet Me In St. Louis. Or alter the meaning as some have proposed.
For instance, there are a couple of holiday movies with ‘gay/homosexual plot lines’ with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” as either the movie title, movie theme song, or some combination thereof. Or similarly, using “Make the Yuletide gay” to push their alternative version of the phrase and song.
However, that is not appropriate or accurate as it’s changing the intention. And not necessary!
So, while everyone deserves to enjoy and celebrate Christmas, the word gay in “Make the Yuletide gay” doesn’t at all pertain to homosexual in meaning. To change it’s meaning isn’t even necessary because it already applies to everyone with the original connotation.
If you look at the dictionary definition of the word “gay”, you will most likely to see homosexuality as one of the first meanings of this word. However, if you look at some of the other meanings, it would be easy to spot that one of the definitions of “gay” is related to happiness or being merry, as well as ‘gay’ derivatives.
gaiety: means gay-like; festive and spiritedMerriam-Webster
From there, it becomes easy to see what the “gay” word is intended to mean in the saying “make the Yuletide gay”.
To reiterate, the word ‘gay’ in ‘Make the Yuletide Gay’ doesn’t refer to homosexuality, despite current ideals, because it actually covers a wider range than that. Instead, it is a word that can be used to describe anyone because it means being happy or merry.
So, in other words, “Make the Yuletide Gay” is simply a way of telling you to make the holiday season happy. It doesn’t relate to homosexuality in any way but is actually just a fancier or altered version of saying Merry Christmas. There really is no difference between the two greetings especially if you understand what being gay in this context actually means.
Ways to ‘make the Yuletide gay’:
- Decorate your home or work place with Christmas colors such as red, green, gold, and silver.
- Add a Christmas tree.
- Eat festive foods like Christmas-themed cookies and rich, creamy desserts.
- Drink Autumnal and Winter spirits like mulled cider or the German, gluehwein, popular at their Christmas markets.
- Give presents to family and friends.
- Sing Christmas carols.
How Is The Yuletide Connected To Christmas?
While we did already talk about the word gay in the saying “Make the Yuletide Gay”, one of the things that some people don’t really understand is what Yuletide is supposed to mean or why it’s become synonymous with Christmas. So, how is Yuletide even connected to Christmas?
Yuletide is often associated with Christmas for people nowadays because of its usage in popular Christmas songs, poems, and stories. However, historically Yuletide merged with Christmas when Germanic traditions and customs were influenced by Christian religion and practices, including Christmas.
According to etymology studies, Yuletide is actually derived from the word Yule, which comes from the Old English word ġēol. Before Yule even became connected with all things ‘Christmas’, it was actually a winter festival aligned to the winter solstice and tied to belief in Norse gods, practiced by Germanic people hundreds of years ago.
‘Germanic people’ refers to those who lived in the older northern European regions of today’s northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.
yuletide: the Christmas seasonMerriam-Webster
Yule customs included a ‘yule log’, decorating a tree, and wassailing, which was drinking and merrymaking with friends and family. And as you can see, all of these have become Christmas customs too.
During the tenth century when Norway and the other Germanic regions of Europe became heavily influenced by the Catholic faith, people merged their Nordic/Yule celebrations with Christian Christmas, sort of meshing of the cultures and customs. The Church encouraged this as long as the focus was on the Christian faith.
Afterwards, the two celebrations became so intertwined that Yuletide and Christmastide basically were the same things.
In retrospect, we can now see that likely Yule or Yuletide probably never really had anything to do with Christianity or Christmas in terms of what both originally meant or their ideology when they first came together. For many in the area at the time, it was just a way for the pagan Germanic people who still worshipped the older Norse gods to hold on to their practices while including some of the newer Christian ideals.
Over time, though, as Christian beliefs became more ingrained into their culture and customs, Yuletide took on more of the Christmas meaning and shed allusions to Odin and other Norse ideals. But it’s also clear that many Christmas practices can be traced to those Germanic ones of Yule.
When we hear ‘Yule’ today it most always means ‘Christmas’ in our minds.
Thus, Yuletide is a term synonymous with Christmas even though the original meaning of the Yule festival was totally different from what it is today and the true meaning of Christmas.
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Do Christians Use ‘Yuletide’ for ‘Merry Christmas’?
For Christians, it’s very important to keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas. What this means is that most Christians are not apt to use ‘Yule’ or ‘Yuletide’ in reference to Christmas even though we know what is intended.
Using Yule or Yuletide in Christmas greetings or references is not preferred by most Christians. With current trends often substituting other words for Christmas in guise of inclusion, Christians are more determined to keep Christ in Christ-mas.
Common sayings instead of Merry Christmas:
- Happy Holidays
- Season’s Greetings
- Happy Yuletide
- Happy Yule
- Best Wishes
- Merry Xmas
- Happy Festivus
Though Christians acknowledge that Yule and Yuletide are connected to the celebration of Christmas (and not other December holidays like Hanukah and Kwanzaa), Christians are more likely to refrain from including them in their Christmas greetings and good wishes. Instead Yule and Yuletide might simply be sung or used in bedtime stories associated with Christmas.
Wrapping Up ‘Make The Yuletide Gay’ Meaning And Usage
All that said, when you say “Make the Yuletide gay” while including the meanings behind Yuletide and gay, it simply is a different way of saying “Make Christmas happy” or, simply put, Merry Christmas.
As such, the meaning and usage of “Make the Yuletide Gay” really is not so different from Merry Christmas, but it’s certainly more of a mouthful and a bit awkward to say with today’s connotations attached.
And as said before, most Christians prefer saying Merry Christmas during the season as it overtly and succinctly puts Christ in the forefront.
But in truth, it’s just a different way of greeting someone during the holidays and passing along good wishes.