This is the most wonderful time of the year! From sailing to Jolly Chris Kringle, the holiday season comes with its own festive selection of words and phrases. Dig into the actual etymological meaning of Christmas, as well as five more treats to consider the word celebration.
As you may have guessed, Christmas is rooted in Christianity. It is from the Old English Christess Moose, meaning ‘mass of Christ’, in the sense of Jesus Christ, who is born on Christmas day and is celebrated as a religious mass.
You may also wonder why most people wish ‘Merry Christmas’ as opposed to ‘Happy Christmas’. Some have argued that it is based on your territory, for example, the British may prefer to say happy while the Americans are in favor of Mira. Another theory is that happiness is an emotional state, while happiness reflects certain behaviors – the state of mind of Christmas, if you will.
According to the Collins Dictionary, the somewhat outdated word to add to your list of festive displays this Christmas, Vasel is among the 50% commonly used words. However, the term is a multi-functional ulatide treatment!
Derived from Middle English Wes Hall, which means to be hearty, Vossel can be used to describe all kinds of Christmas activities. Some examples are: a toast or greeting, a Christmas carol singing, spicy beer or mulled wine and even ‘a party when you drink too much’ (here for you, office Christmas party!)
Everyone’s favorite international secret is known by many names: St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Chris Kringle, Papa Noel, Santa Claus. Where do they all come from?
Father Christmas may be more familiar to UK audiences, who are emerging as the modern incarnation of Christmas. Before the Victorians, their main concern was adult feasting and merry-making, but they were re-branded as gift-givers in the 19th century when Christmas became more child-centered.
Santa Claus is the corruption of Saint Nicholas (from Dutch Sinterclass), the patron saint of children. The story of Santa Claus is believed to have originated in the third century with St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, whose mythical secret gift-giving habit spread far and wide. Saint Nicholas is honored on December 6, the day of his death.
As we all know the story, poor old Rudolph was chosen by Santa to drive the main wheelbarrow before being abandoned by his fellow deer. But did you know that Rudolph literally means ‘famous wolf’?
Also did you know that the rain-in reindeer is taken from the old Norse Hiren, which means ‘horned beast’, especially an animal whose horns rest above its head. Clearly we wanted to get straight to the point when we discovered these majestic beauties.
Christmas doesn’t say anything like the subtle glitter of tinsel, decorating your Christmas tree or casually wrapping it around your shoulders if you’re feeling extra festive. These days tinsel has small strips of shiny paper attached to the thread, but at one time it had gold and silver threads.
Interestingly, the word tinsel is derived from the 16th century old French Estenseller, meaning ‘shine’ which itself is derived from the Latin scintilla, ‘a spark’. Depending on how degrading you felt at the time, you can buy tinsel made of real cut silver! Really sparkly.
According to Cliff Richard’s Dalset Tone, Christmas time is for mistletoe and wine. Kissing under the mistletoe is the ultimate holiday #goals for frustrating romantic people. We’re sorry to ruin it for you, but the derivation of mistletoe would make the idea much less appealing.
There is no point in beating around the holly bush, the mistletoe finds its etymological root in bird hunting, which the Anglo-Saxons believed the plant was fertilized. Fodder-growing birds trace foliage and eat millet berries, which they later emit, scattering milletlet seeds in new areas. Still imagining that smooch under a twig of dung? Probably not.
Looking for more seasonal wordplay? Take a look at our Etymology Corner blog, which examines the origins of favorite festive behaviors such as eggs, hot toddy and regmaker. Merry Christmas!