What decorations deck your halls? “Tinsel” arose from the Old French estincelle “a spark of fire” and estinceler “to spark, twinkle”, with “s” no longer pronounced by 14th/15th century French, and the initial “e” dropped in Anglo-Norman and English. Old French also gave us “bauble”, from baubel , meaning “child’s toy, trinket”, probably a reduplication of bel , from the Latin bellus “pretty”. “Wreath”, on the other hand, is from the Old English wriða , a form of “writhe”, for something wound or twisted in a circular shape, including a garland, from the Old French garlande . As for Christmas fairy lights, the term was coined at London’s Savoy Theatre’s 1882 premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe , for the miniature lights adorning the lead fairies, designed by Joseph Swan, pioneer of incandescent light bulbs. The same year in New York, electric lights were first used for a Christmas tree, by Edward Johnson, vice-president of the Edison Electric Light Company. Beverages and desserts have hazier origins. The mulled of mulled wine may refer to several meanings of the verb “mull”, including to grind – the various spices – to a powder, or, from the 1600s, to soften or thaw – hence to warm. And the nog in eggnog? One explanation lies with Scottish and Irish English’s noggin – possibly coming from the Scottish knag “a small cask, barrel, keg” – for a small drinking vessel or a small quantity or measure of alcoholic liquor. Figgy pudding, or plum pudding, generally doesn’t figure figs or plums – though Medieval recipes for figge or fygeye involve stewed figs in wine mixed with bread, almonds, raisins and spices, and the Elizabethan-era “plum” denoted all dried fruit. In the 14th and 15th centuries, it was savoury rather than sweet, a means to preserve meats with grain, fruit and spices. Similarly, mince pies, filled with mincemeat – originating in Middle Eastern recipes of meat, fruit and spices, brought back by the Crusaders – saw the meat filling falling out of fashion in the 1800s. Chestnut reduced from chesten + nut , developed from the Middle English chestaine , ultimately coming from the Greek καστανέα “Castanian nut”, named for the city in Asia Minor from which it was introduced. More straightforwardly, Milanese speciality panettone is composed of the Italian panetto “small loaf”, diminutive of pane “bread”, plus the augmentative suffix -one, to mean “large cake”, or from the Milanese pane di tono , meaning “luxury bread” (though other more fanciful legends abound). Let’s drink a bowl of wassail – the Old Norse ves heill gave Old English wes hál – meaning: “be in good health”. Cheers!