The definition of Christmas

by Stratton Craig

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Santa’s famous red-nosed helper, Rudolph the reindeer has always been portrayed as somewhat of an outcast. His name however, actually means ‘famous wolf’ and would have been an epithet given to only the bravest of warriors. Go Rudolph!

Arguably one of the most romantic traditions of Christmas, the origins of this word are slightly less so… The ‘toe’ part is easy; it’s an Old English word for ‘twig’. ‘Mistle’, however, is not quite so straightforward.

The plant was previously known as just ‘mistel’, which was a word used for birdlime – a sticky substance put onto branches to trap birds. Why the two words came together we can’t be sure, although an interesting theory suggests that the birds would eat mistletoe berries and pass the seeds elsewhere to create sticky twigs too. So ‘mistel’ may also have been used to mean ‘bird droppings’… Perhaps something not to remember when you’re puckering up for that Chrimbo smacker!

Deriving from the Latin word ‘adventus’, which means ‘a coming, approach, arrival’, advent has of course come to be known as the build-up to Christmas. It’s the part when it’s socially-acceptable to put up the tree, hang up the lights and drink mulled wine with breakfast, lunch AND dinner…

Noël derives from the Latin verb nasci’, which means ‘to be born’. The book of Ecclesiastes refers to Jesus’ birth as natalis’ and a variation of this word, nael’, was used in Old French in reference to the Christmas season and later in Middle English as ‘nowel’ – meaning ‘feast of Christmas’.

Although not strictly Christmassy, we can’t think of many times when we use this word more often than during the festive season. It comes from the Latin for face or countenance, and was originally used to refer to any facial expression at all. It evolved to mean ‘gladness’ and the first record of it used for encouragement or support is in 1720. It wasn’t then used as a toast until the early 20th century, and there are lots of theories as to how that came about… Our favourite is that to wholly enjoy an experience  revellers need to satisfy all senses. They can see, taste, smell and touch their drink. So clinking and ‘cheers’ing completes that with sound.

Have we missed your favourite Yuletide word? Let us know by tweeting us or in the comment box below and we’ll demystify it for you…

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