The Meanings of 11 Christmas Words You Never Quite Understood

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The songs and cultural celebrations of Advent and Christmas are full of terms we don’t use that often the rest of the year. Perhaps you’ve wondered what some of these terms meant but were afraid to ask?

Fear no longer!

Here are the meanings of 11 common Christmas and Advent terms that you might not already know:

[See also: The Untold Story of the Pope Behind the Famous Christmas Truce of 1914]

[See also: Thor, St. Boniface, and the Origin of the Christmas Tree]

1) Yuletide

“Yuletide carols being sung by a choir…”

Sometimes “yule,” this is simply another name for “Christmas.” But it wasn’t always: originally, it referred to a pagan Germanic festival around the same time of year. After the people converted to Christianity, the festival became Christmas, but the name stuck.

2) Advent

“Advent” is the a season of preparation before Christmas, lasting around 4 weeks. It comes from the Latin word adventus which means “arrival” or “coming.” The term can also refer to the Second Coming of Christ.

3) Noël

“The first Noël, the angels did say…” (The First Noël)

Just another name for “Christmas.” It is a French variant of nael, which comes from the Latin word natalis which means “birth.” Christmas of course celebrates the birth of Jesus.

4) Crèche

A French word, this is just another word for “Nativity scene,” or a scene of the birth of Christ. Literally, it means “crib.”

5) Nativity

In a Christian context, the Nativity refers to the birth of Jesus, and comes from the Latin word nativus, which means birth. Used generally, however, “nativity” can refer to the birth of anyone.

6) Wassailing

“Here we come a-wassailing…” (Here We Come A-wassailing)

This is just another term for caroling. It comes from an Old Norse phrase ves heill, meaning “be healthy,” and was a common greeting.

7) Tidings

“O tidings of comfort and joy…” (God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen)

This refers to the “announcement of an event,” and comes from the Old English term tidan which means “to happen.”

8) Hark

“”Hark!” the herald angels sing…” (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

This word means “listen,” and comes from Old English.

9) Immanuel

“O come, O come, Immanuel…” (O come, O come, Immanuel)

This is a Hebrew word meaning “God with us.” It appears in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and in the Gospel of Matthew it is applied to Jesus as a title.

10) Immaculate Conception

This phrase does not refer to the conception of Jesus (though he was certainly conceived without Original Sin), but to the miraculous conception of Mary without Original Sin. The feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated every year in the midst of Advent on December 8th.

11) Christmas

The word “Christmas” is a combination of “Christ” and “Mass,” because it’s the day Christians celebrate a special Mass in remembrance of the birth of Christ.

[See also: QUIZ: Which Nativity Character Are You?]

[See also: 11 Fun Advent Memes to Start the Season Off Right]

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