Normally, English native speakers use on and at with the festive holiday in the following manner

  1. We open our gifts on Christmas morning.
  2. We're going away at Christmas

The preposition on is used for dates, days of the week, and names of public holidays
e.g., Many florists make a profit on Valentine's day

But if a holiday covers a period of two or more days then the preposition at is used

  1. Children often hope for snow at Christmas
  2. We always stuff ourselves with chocolate at Easter

Recently, I discovered that in some parts of the US this is not always the case

While “on Christmas day” is hardly unusual, I would say that just “on Christmas” is the more frequently-heard expression, by a considerable margin. Might be a cultural thing, though (my experience is the American Northeast for the most part)

and in an old EL&U answer this phrase was submitted

We got together on Christmas for dinner and a gift exchange.

I also found supporting reference

*Note that in some varieties of English people say "on the weekend" and "on Christmas".

  • Where do native English speakers omit Day/day and instead say on Christmas?
  • Does on Christmas refer to 25th December, or is it also used to cover the entire holiday season?

This question is related, and inspired by the ELL question:
What is the difference between 'at Christmas' and 'on Christmas'?

  • 1
    "... on Xmas Day" or "I'm visiting friends and relatives at Christmas." Just saying: "I'm going to be out on Christmas" sounds ambiguous to me, is it 25th December or the holiday period? EDIT: Well, it's a pity JOSH deleted their comments.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 10:47
  • 1
    All alone on Christmas - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Alone_on_Christmas
    – user66974
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 10:49
  • 6
    Welcome back.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 11:08
  • 3
    "At Christmas" and "at the weekend" are not generally used in AmE. We'd likely use "for". I'm going home for Christmas.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 12:07
  • 2
    “At Christmas” sounds quite distinctly odd to me. I would definitely say that children hope for snow for Christmas, or over Christmas… or even on Christmas (though I agree that sounds more American). “At Easter” sounds even stranger to my ear, though “on Easter” is no better. “Over Easter” is the only one that doesn’t sound strange to me there. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 13:22

2 Answers 2


I'm an American, and I always use 'on' with a holiday, never 'at'. I've lived in different parts of the US and Canada, and I can't recall hearing a North American say 'at Christmas'. My impression is that this is very much a cultural difference in usage.

It seems to me that we only add 'day' if we want to clarify that we're referring specifically to December 25th, but often temporal context makes it clear enough that we don't need to specify. For example, if I ask someone who lives abroad whether they're going home for Christmas, they'll know I mean the holiday period and not just the day, since almost no one would travel internationally for a single day's visit. If my friend lives in the same town as her parents and I ask her whether she's going to her parents' house for Christmas, she will know I mean the day, since it's unlikely that someone would spend a week with their parents when they have their own home nearby.

  • An American might say "at Christmastime" Commented May 21, 2019 at 19:15

This is something we're explicitly made aware of when teaching English to foreign students as we teach British English but need to be aware of American English so that they don't become confused and unsure of what is correct when they hear American English used.

Traditionally in British English, "at" is always used for festivities. "At Christmas", "At Easter", whereas "on" is always used for days and dates in both British and American English. Thus "On Christmas day" is considered correct in both British and American English.

Using "On Christmas" is a uniquely North American phenomena, regardless of whether the speaker is simply abbreviating the phrase "Christmas day" or referring to the entire festival season. It's rare to hear someone say "on Christmas" in the British Isles, the only exception being foreigners with American influenced English.

In North America the phrase "On Christmas" is often used to refer to both the festival season and to the specific day itself, and generally context is used to distinguish whether the speaker is referring to the day or to the whole season.

I will add, however, that I believe "at Christmas" is not unheard of in North America, and that while it may have lost ground to "on Christmas", "at Christmas" can still be heard in various regions. I also believe that you'll frequently find "at Christmas" in older American literature as "on Christmas" as only become accepted as correct in American English relatively recently.

It might be worth nothing that a lot of preposition are possible with "Christmas", for, over, during, they all work as well, and various dialects have slight differences in preference when it comes to which to use when.

  • 7
    As a native speaker of American English I can say I never use on Christmas to refer to "the festival season." Rather, I use over Christmas, for Christmas, or multiple words (Christmas break, Christmas season, Christmas vacation, etc), depending on context. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 14:29
  • 1
    Just as on Christmas is short for on Christmas day, the phrase at Christmas is short for during the Christmas holiday. For Christmas can either mean the same thing (We're going to Tucson for/at Christmas this year), or it can refer to gift exchange or other festive parts (We're [giving the kids embroidered napkins/roasting a goose] for Christmas this year). Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 16:19
  • @JohnLawler The only real distinction I am picking up here is that in America the name of 25th Dec is sometimes referred to simply as Christmas, whilst in Britain we would always say Christmas Day - (and use on). Part of the reason for this may be that for some Americans Christmas consists only of the 25th, whilst in Britain, as one American ex-pat. put it to me, "Christmas in the UK seems like 4th July, GW's birthday, Thanksgiving, and American Christmas all rolled into one." For many in Britain it is a ten-day holiday (for some a ten-day booze up!).
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 8:24

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