The English word for the season, Christmas, is made up of two elements: Christ + mas. “Christ” comes from Greek, from the verb χρίζω (chrizo), which means “to annoint”. The second part, “mas” is from “Mass”, the Eucharistic service. It comes from Latin missa, the feminine past participle of the word mittere, which means “to send, dismiss, let go”. It came to be used in this context as it was one of the closing words of the service in Latin, and probably stuck in people’s minds as they left.

A number of languages use words for “birth” to denote Christmas, to signify that it is the season of Christ’s birth.

In Greek, it is Χριστούγεννα (Christouyenna), from the genitive form of Christos, “Christ” and yenna, meaning “birth.

Italian Natale, French Noël, Spanish Navidad, Portuguese Natal and Welsh Nadolig all derive from the Latin for “birth”. The French word also appears in Turkish as Noel.

German Weihnachten is made up of two elements: weihen + Nachten. The first part, weihen, is a verb meaning “to consecrate”, or perhaps “hallow”. The second part means “nights”. This makes it “Consecrated (or “hallowed”) Nights”.

Swedish, Danish, Norwegian jul and English yule all come from Old Norse jol, a mid-winter festival pre-dating Christianity that was adopted by Christians and given a Christian theme.

In Hungarian it is karácsony, which is a Slavic loan-word, possibly from Bulgarian. Variants of it can be found in various Slavic languages to refer to the mid-winter solstice or mid-winter festival.

Merry Christmas everyone!


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