'In' or 'at '?
I know we use "at Christmas" and "in war times". What should be the answer
I normally prepare a lot of gifts (in / at ) Christmas time.
Posted 11 September 2002
I used the ECBSS software and found 21 "at Christmas time" and 0 "in Christmas time" in the Written English Corpus. The total number of occurrences of "Christmas time" is 47.
* ECBSS, programmed by myself to help build a corpus and search a corpus for examples and statistics on collocation, frequency, subject-verb agreement and so on.
* Written English Corpus, a corpus built with ECBSS of literary writings by native English writers, presently untagged, about 50 million words.
Actually, we say "IN time of war" to refer to any period of time in which a nation is or may be engaged in war. In this use, the noun "time" is an abstraction. We use the plural form "IN timeS of war" to refer to past periods of time when a nation was engaged in a real war. But we do say "IN times of plenty" or "IN times of social upheaval."
The question remains: Why do we say "IN times of plenty/prosperity" and "IN happier times" but "AT Christmas time (or Christmastime)" and "AT Easter time"?
The choice of preposition depends on whether the speaker is referring to a single point in time or to a period of time. The idea of wartime, peacetime, or "happy times" is felt to have duration, and is thus seen as a period of time. If the thing referred to is seen as a period of time, the preposition is IN.
Holiday seasons, even though they consist of more than a single day, are treated as if they were a single point in time. The preposition is AT, just as in "AT six o'clock." Thus we have "AT Christmas time" and "AT Easter time."