In this brief seasonal podcast (15 minutes) we will cover the meaning of 12 familiar, yet seldom understood, terms related to Christmas. Download here.

  1. Christmas: Christ + mass. Mass < Ite, missa est [?finita], the dismissal words of the medieval church service. A connection has been suggested with Luke 2:29, Simeon's words in the Nunc Dimittis. For more on the origin of the word, click here.
  2. Noël: (nowell) < nātālis (adjective, from nātālis diēs = day of birth).
  3. Xmas: X is an abbreviation for Christ, which in Greek is spelled XPICTOC (ch-r-i-s-t-o-s)
  4. Twelve Days of Christmas:  Begin on Christmas day and end on 12th night, or January 5th. Among the Orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated on January 6th.
  5. Yuletide: tide = time; Yul = In modern Germanic language-speaking areas and some other Northern European countries, historical cognates to English yule denote the Christmas holiday season. Examples include Jul (Sweden, Denmark, Norway), Jól (Iceland and the Faroe Islands), Joulu (Finland), Joelfest (Friesian), and Jõulud (Estonia).
  6. Inn/ upper room: (katáluma = inn, lodging place). But pandocheîon is Luke's normal word for inn. Luke 2:7 famously reads: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Normally the animals would have been downstairs, sleeping humans upstairs. But the word also means (essentially) guest room (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). Was there "no room" because Joseph and Mary's relations were ashamed?
  7. Manger / Crêche: Manger = French verb to eat < Latin mānducāre, chew (< mānduco, glutton). The word shows up not only in Luke 2: 7,12,15; 13:15, but also Job 39:6 and Prov 14:4. Crêche: British nursery for young children be taken care of during the working day, or even during church services. Ox and donkey from Isaiah 1:3 and probably the 7th C. Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. In 1223 AD, Francis of Assisi used a living creche as a Christmas teaching aid! In Old French, cresche = crib, manger.
  8. Immanuel: with-us-God, Hebrew. See Isaiah 7:14.
  9. Magi: Persian astrologer-priests for the Zoroastrian religion. Simon Magus (Acts 8) is the next best known magus (Greek magos, plural magoi; Latin magus, plural magi).
  10. Massacre of the Innocents: Herod's targeted execution of the 2-and-under children in Bethlehem and its surrounds (Matthew 2:16-18). Scholars believe dozens of toddlers and infants were murdered, reminding us of the fortunate survival of Moses, despite the attempt of the Pharaoh to do away with any threat to his throne.
  11. Wassail: < ME washail < OE wæs + hail (be healthy), a salutation and wish for health.
  12. Carol may come from the Latin choraula, a dance to the flute. A Christmas carol is also sometimes called a noël (from the French word for Christmas).


  • So, how many of these terms had you already heard? How many could you have explained before this podcast?
  • Happy Holidays! Maybe now that we better understand Xmas culture, we will even more appreciate the season.