9 style tips for Christmas

paper-snowflakeOn Christmas Eve, some watch for Santa. Others listen for reindeer.

But copyeditors? They just keep looking for typos.

In appreciation of this thankless task, we’ve put together an editorial style sheet full of jolly jargon and tinselly terms. So break out the wassail (hot mulled cider) and bûche de noël (an “edible yule log”) and start celebrating.

Who knows? If you use proper spelling, Santa might leave a red pencil in your stocking.

  • Christmas, Christmas Day, Christmas Eve. According to The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, “the names of secular and religious holidays … are capitalized.” In addition, the brusque Xmas is listed as a synonym for Christmas in both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, and the American Heritage Dictionary, 5th edition. Whether you choose to use it is your business.
  • Christmas cactus, Christmas pudding, Christmas tree. In contrast to the above rule, when Christmas acts as a modifier, the noun after it is lowercased.
  • Christmastime, Christmastide. The first term refers loosely to the Christmas season. The second, to the segment of the Christian liturgical year stretching from Christmas Eve to Epiphany (the 12th day after Christmas).
  • crèche. If you’re in an EU country, you might use crèche to mean daycare. In the wild hills of the United States, we use it to mean a representation of the Nativity scene. Either way, place a grave accent on the e.
  • Father Christmas, Père Noël. In Britain, Father Christmas might fill your stocking. In French-speaking countries, it would be Père Noël, replete with accents grave and circumflex.
  • Kriss Kringle. If you’re using this name for Santa Claus, remember the double s in Kriss. Spelling Santa’s name correctly surely doubles your chances of getting candy rather than coal.
  • Nativity. According to MW and AH, Nativity is capped when referring to the birth of Jesus. It’s lowercased when referring to the birth of us regular folk.
  • Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick. Whichever way you refer to Santa Claus, spell out the word Saint rather than using the abbreviation St.
  • Yule-related terms. MW and AH apparently duked it out over these terms. In the left corner is MW, listing yule, Yule log, and yuletide. And in the right corner is AH, listing Yule, yule log, and Yuletide. Let’s get ready to rumble!

Enjoy this style sheet, copyeditors. I wish you a warm and cheerful holiday.

Samantha Enslen makes Christmas cookies and runs Dragonfly Editorial. This post was originally published on the ACES blog in 2013.

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