2020 Holiday Style Topical Guide

Spellings and definitions of terms associated with religious and cultural events around the turn of the year. Some are in the AP Stylebook; some are in our primary dictionary, Webster’s New World College Dictionary; others are common usage in holiday stories transmitted by AP.

"A Visit From St. Nicholas"

Poem by Clement Clarke Moore that begins, "'Twas the night before Christmas ..."

"Auld Lang Syne"

Sung to greet the new year, poem by Robert Burns set to Scottish music.

"Bah! Humbug!"

Ebenezer Scrooge's denunciation of holiday sentiment in "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas"

Spell the numeral in the Christmas carol.

"White Christmas"

Irving Berlin's sentimental ballad immortalized by crooner Bing Crosby.


Period including the four Sundays preceding Christmas.


– Dateline for AP stories from the biblical site of Jesus' birth.


Capitalize, without quotation marks, when referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Capitalize also related terms such as the Gospels, Gospel of St. Mark, the Scriptures, the Holy Scriptures.

Lowercase biblical in all uses.

Lowercase bible as a nonreligious term: My dictionary is my bible.

Do not abbreviate individual books of the Bible.

Old Testament is a Christian designation; Hebrew Bible or Jewish Bible is the appropriate term for stories dealing with Judaism alone.

Citation listing the number of chapter and verse(s) use this form: Matthew 3:16, Luke 21:1-13, 1 Peter 2:1.

Black Friday

The Friday after Thanksgiving, when U.S. retail stores traditionally launch the start of Christmas shopping.

Boxing Day

Post-Christmas holiday Dec. 26 in British Commonwealth countries.


Capitalize sparkling wine from that French region uncorked to celebrate the new year. If made elsewhere, call it sparkling wine.

Christmas tree

Lowercase tree and other seasonal terms with Christmas: card, wreath, carol, etc. Exception: National Christmas Tree in Washington.

Christmas, Christmas Day

Dec. 25 Christian feast marking the birth of Jesus. Christmas Eve is also capitalized.


One word.

Cyber Monday

The Monday after Thanksgiving, typically the busiest day of the year for online shopping in the U.S.


Toy spinning top used in games played during Hanukkah.

dressing, stuffing

Dressing is cooked outside of the bird; stuffing is cooked inside. Use of the terms also varies regionally in the U.S., with one preferred over the other in some places regardless of how it's prepared.


Use a hyphen, as with other e- terms: e-book, e-reader. But email and esports.

fa la la la la, la la la la

Musical notes are separate words and lowercase.

Feliz Navidad

Traditional Spanish greeting for Christmas.


A Thanksgiving-style gathering with friends instead of family. Friendsgiving is sometimes celebrated in addition to traditional Thanksgiving; others observe it on Thanksgiving Day.

frosting, icing

Either term can be used to describe a topping of sugar, butter and other ingredients applied to cookies, cakes and other pastries. Use of the terms varies regionally in the U.S. Both cookies and cakes can be glazed (drizzled with a thin sugar mixture).


Spoilsport who steals holiday fun, based on the title character in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" by Dr. Seuss.


Lowercase the biblical praise to God, but capitalize in composition titles: Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus.


One word, no hyphen


Eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, which starts the evening of Dec. 10 this year.

happy holidays, merry Christmas, season's greetings, happy birthday, happy new year

Lowercase except in exclamations: Have a happy new year, wishing you a merry Christmas, sending season's greetings your way. (Christmas is always capitalized): In exclamations: Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Season's greetings! Happy New Year! (New Year is up in this use for the Jan. 1 holiday.)

holiday foods

Some food and drink people might enjoy at holiday celebrations include: coquito, cornbread, eggnog, fruitcake, gingerbread, kugel, latkes, panettone and sugarplums.

Holy Land

Capitalize the biblical region.

Jesus, Jesus Christ

Kriss Kringle

Not Kris. Derived from the German word Christkindl, or baby Jesus.


African American and Pan-African celebration of family, community and culture, Dec. 26-Jan. 1.

lighted, lit

Either is acceptable as the past tense form of light.

Lunar New Year

The most important holiday in several East Asian countries, marking the start of the Chinese lunar calendar. The holiday starts anytime from mid-January to mid-February depending on the year (Feb. 12 in 2021). In China it is marked by a weeklong public holiday and mass travel by Chinese to their hometowns for family reunions. Also celebrated among Chinese communities overseas, especially in Southeast Asia. Lunar New Year is preferred over Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, the name it is known by in China. The holiday is also observed in South Korea, where it is known as Seollal, and Vietnam, where it is known as Tet.


The wise men who brought gifts to the infant Jesus at Epiphany, celebrated Jan. 6.

Mawlid al-Nabi

Holiday celebrating the birthday of Islam's prophet, Muhammad, born in the year 570. It is marked in many Muslim countries, though not all, as a public holiday, and families often celebrate with special sweets. Observed this year on Oct. 28-29.


The seven-branch candelabrum from the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Also the popular term for the nine-branch candelabrum, or hanukkiah, used on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.


Capitalized in references to Jesus or to the promised deliverer in Judaism.


Avoid using the term if it would create ambiguity about what day something is taking place, since some users’ understandings may vary. Instead: 11:59 p.m. Thursday or 12:01 a.m. Friday.


A yellowish evergreen hung as a Christmas decoration; by tradition, people kiss when standing under a sprig.

Nativity scene

Only the first word is capitalized.

New Year's Eve, New Year's, New Year's Day, Happy New Year!

Capitalize for the days of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 and in exclamations. But lowercase general references to the coming year: What will the new year bring?


A Christmas carol, borrowed from the French word for Christmas, which is capitalized.

North Pole

Mythical home of Santa Claus.


Decorative plant for Christmas; note the "ia."


Apostrophes are most commonly used in possessives. They’re also used in contractions and other times when letters are deleted. Never use an apostrophe to make a word plural. Don’t write this: Happy Holiday’s from the Whitman’s. The holidays and the Whitmans are plural. They are not possessive. If you feel an urge for possession, try this: Happy Holidays from the Whitmans’ hearts.

Combining an apostrophe with other punctuation hurts the eyes and the head, so try to avoid it. But if necessary: Pretend that the apostrophe is part of the word. Then punctuate as you would with any word. For example: The best tree was at the Newvines’. If it’s a direct quote, it becomes: “The best tree was at the Newvines’.” Better to rephrase: The Newvines had the best tree. But never: The Newvine’s had the best tree.


Acceptable to refer to heating an oven to a specific temperature before cooking. (A change in 2020.)


Passing along an unwanted present to someone else.

Santa Claus, Santa

Nice in any reference. Naughty: Using Claus on second reference. Mrs. Claus is acceptable for Santa’s wife.


When the sun reaches its maximum distance north or south of the celestial equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the day of the summer solstice (about June 21, marking the beginning of summer) is the time of the sun's maximum elevation and, thus, has the longest period of sunlight; winter solstice (about Dec. 21, marking the beginning of winter) is the time of the sun's minimum elevation and, thus, has the shortest period of sunlight.

Thanksgiving weekend

Lowercase weekend.

Twelfth Night

The evening before the Twelfth Day, Jan. 6, that traditionally ends the Christmas season.


Don't use this abbreviation for Christmas.

Yule, Yuletide

Old English for Christmas season.

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