As part of the liberal war on Christmas (so carefully documented by Fox News), let’s look at the language of some of our mythology. Because this is a blog that covers language and writing as thoroughly as a good warm quilt, let’s consider where some Christmas words come from.
The word “Christmas” is obviously derived from “Christ”. Although we’re used to saying Jesus Christ as a proper name, the word “christ” was really an adjective to begin with. In spite of being treated now as a name, it was not capitalized on a regular basis until the 1600s. The word “christ” comes from ancient Greek “khristos” meaning “anointed”, and was a kind of description of who Jesus was, someone special.
The ending “-mas” on Christmas is an abbreviation of the word “mass”, showing a Catholic origin to the name. As a religious service was celebrated for the birth of Christ, the “Christ mass” was eventually shortened into one word. The same phenomenon, by the way, can be found in the name of the holiday Michaelmas, celebrated for the archangel St. Michael.
For us the word “Christmas” has multiple meanings, from high holy day to major cultural holiday to secular extravaganza and family burden. Since the holiday has no direct Biblical basis, for some religious groups (i.e. those grim, unpleasant Puritans) the word meant an invented nonsense that should not be celebrated. Of course the Puritans weren’t the last word in grim, unpleasant religious groups. You can go now to a website put up by Last Trumpet Ministries—and with a name like that you can see what’s coming, right?—to read about the horrors of Christmas. Of the word “Christmas” they say that the Catholic mass means “death sacrifice” (who knows where they got that?) so that Christmas means “death of Christ”.
From the very beginning, the Catholic church did indeed try to use Christmas to take over pagan holidays like the winter solstice (and thus the birthday of Jesus is celebrated at the end of December). With such a history, it really shouldn’t be such a surprise that Christmas would have a strong secular element, to the point that even nonreligious people throw themselves into singing, eating, drinking, and cutting down trees. Which Last Trumpet Ministries considers the decadent sign of sin run amuck.
Speaking of running amuck, the Christmas shopping season began back around, I don’t know, Labor Day. This is also non-Biblical. Even as early as the Middle Ages the mythology of the gift giver St. Nicholas was well established, leading eventually to Santa Claus. The name “Santa Claus” comes from Dutch “Sinterklaas”, which is basically a Dutch form of the name “St. Nicholas”. We still allude openly to that origin with the name “St. Nick”, and—I search my soul whether to say this, but I’m giving in—that’s Santa’s nickname.
Christmas might also be said to have a nickname with the word “yule”. The word isn’t used extensively, but it’s certainly common enough that everyone knows it. “Yule” also comes from pagan practices, originating from a German word designating a winter festival. We can see the winter solstice connection here, a celebration to invoke light on the darkest day of the year.
So it’s a festival. We should be happy, celebrate, be merry. As the very first Christmas card in the world, printed in London in 1843, said, “A Merry Christmas”. Or if you follow Last Trumpet Ministries, when you say this you are actually saying “Merry death of Christ”. Some people have souls like chunks of granite.
When I say Merry Christmas, I mean sing, eat, drink, and cut down trees. Have a lovely Christmas. And bring me a figgy pudding.