25 December, 2005

"Christmas" in different languages

I haven't posted much lately because I've been working obsessively on something for my students. Rather than try to describe it in words, you can see it here.

At last night's Vigil mass, the priest made an interesting observation. While here in the United States people are all hot and bothered about keeping "Christ" in "Christmas". This isn't an issue in many other countries, because "Christ" doesn't appear in their language's word for "Christmas" to begin with. To wit:

  • in Latin, Christmas is Nativitas Domini, "the Lord's birth", although I don't know if there's an expression for "Merry Christmas";
  • Italian and Spanish are similar, Buon Natale ("Good birthday" is the best, although "natale" refers only to Christ's birthday) and Feliz Navidad;
  • French is similar, and Joyeux Noelle derives in the same way;
  • Russian is с рождеством (s razhdyestvum, "the birthday!").


As more and more people seem to know, Christmas is timed to coincide with pagan holidays surrounding the winter solstice. This has offended a lot of people, Christian and pagan alike, who tend to see the other in Manichaean terms.

Ancient Christians didn't have quite the same issues; they often viewed their religious predecessors, Jewish and pagan alike, as a foreshadowing of the truth. Many Christians these days take the opposite tack, and view anything that's not patently Christian as a shadowing rather than a foreshadowing. This is not an attitude helpful to evangelization, as Paul himself understood while in Athens.

This week Christmas falls on a Sunday. In English, "Sunday" comes from the name of a Germanic pagan goddes for the sun, but (again) other languages don't have this issue:
  • Dominica in Latin means "the Lord's [day]";
  • In Italian and Spanish this has become the recognizable Domenica and Domingo;
  • in French the word has corrupted further into the barely-recognizable Dimanche;
  • in Russian the work is Воскресенье (vaskrisenyah) which means "resurrection", and is the same as the word used for "Easter";
  • in Greek, the word is η Κυριακή, which looks an awful lot like "the Lord's [day]" (but I don't know enough Greek to confirm that).


Any way you say it, God bless you, and Merry Christmas.

2 comments:

qkl said...

Just to tell you in french it is Joyeux Noël instead of Joyeux Noelle... you were very close =}.

Yes, Dimanche in french from the latin dies dominicus, something like the lord's day or the God's (dieu) day.

Some french and english days corresponds like monday, the day of the moon, and lundi in french the day of la lune.

Also:
mardi = mars' day
mercredi = mercury's day
jeudi = jupiter's day
vendredi = venus' day
samedi = saturn's day

Which I don't think is similar in english.

You have a good point about pagans and Christians not liking the other holidays...

I will stop here... so Merry Christmas, an Happy New Year in advance and God bless you and your family.

jack perry said...

The French days of the week are similar to Italian (not surprising): Martedì, Mercoledì, Giovedì, Venerdì. Saturday doesn't work, though: the Italians call it Sabato (Sabbath).

Happy New Year to you as well :-) God bless