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Curious Christmas Words

by Colleen P Moyne (Colmo) (follow)
I'm a freelance writer living in the beautiful river town of Mannum in SA, dreaming of the day I can retire from the 9-5 to write full time.
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Christmas Greeting Card
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / Freedigitalphotos.net

Have you ever noticed that there are certain words that we tend to only use at Christmas time? Words like ‘Merry’ and ‘Joyous’ for example. Have you ever wished someone a merry anniversary or a joyous birthday? I find it curious that words such as these can have a season.

There are the more obvious ones – the word Christmas itself – and Noel, nativity, and advent….

Surprisingly, the word ‘Christmas’ is a mash-up of Christ and mass and doesn't actually relate to the birth of Christ, but refers to the ‘mass’ that was the last supper Jesus held before he died. That’s where he first offered up bread and wine to represent his body and blood, and that’s what today's mass is based upon.

Ornament with Word Noel
Image courtesy of Barrettward / Openclipart.org

We all sing along to ‘The First Noel,’ but how many of us are aware of what the word Noel means? Some believe it’s just the French word for Christmas, but a more precise definition is ‘the first declaration or announcement of Christmas’ i.e. when the news was first heralded that Jesus was born.

The word ‘Nativity’ means birth or origin (as from the word native,) so those little dioramas that we display each year are called Nativity scenes. I've never heard the word used in any other context or at any other time of the year.

Christmas Greeting Card
Image courtesy of dan / Freedigitalphotos.net

‘Advent’ means arrival or coming, which is why we open twenty-four little windows on a board during the month leading up to Christmas. To put it literally, we are anticipating the advent of the re-enactment of a mass that was held by the adult Jesus just before his death, in order to celebrate his nativity – or birth. Sounds odd when you use all the words in that way, doesn't it?

Christmas Greeting Card
Image courtesy of RitaWestcott / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another interesting one…Many of the songs we call ‘Christmas carols’ are not really carols. Carols originally were religious songs of praise, and many of the songs we associate with Christmas don’t actually have anything to do with Christmas, but more to do with winter e.g. ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Jingle Bells.’

Santa Claus is based on an actual man called Saint Nicholas who lived in the fourth century, so when your children ask if Santa Claus is real, you can say yes and know that you are telling the truth (pretty much.)

Santa in Christmas Pageant
Image courtesy of Jon Sullivan / Wikimedia Commons

I guess the good thing about our use of these words only at Christmas, is that it makes them all the more special. After all, what could be more special than a rosy-cheeked Santa Claus calling out ‘Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!’ from his flying sleigh. It just wouldn't sound the same without the ‘Merry.’

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