Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmass

It amuses me that many people wish others a Merry Christmas without any awareness of what that greeting means.

The Spanish-speaking peoples say, "Feliz Navidad," which means "Happy Nativity." The Italians say much the same thing in their "Buon Natale." The French duplicate it in "Joyeux Noel." All three refer to the birth of Christ.

The Germans wish you "Frőhliche Weihnachten," which is roughly rendered, "Happy Consecrated (i.e., Holy) Night."

I like the sound of the Hawaiian greeting, "Mele Kalikimaka," borrowed directly from the English "Merry Christmas," but pronounced quite differently because there is no "r" or "s" in Hawaiian.

And that brings us back to the greeting English-speaking people use. It comes from the old English word crīstesmæsse, which means "Christ's Mass."

The celebration of Jesus' birth used to be called "the Christ Mass," and from that expression came our "Merry Christmas."

It is true that we do not know the date or even  the year of Jesus' birth. We conclude from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

St. Francis of Assisi, however, helped the Middle Ages think more of Jesus' birth when he put together a Christmas creche, the forerunner of the crib sets we see every year in our churches, in our homes, and sometimes in public places.

I hear that Members of the House of Representatives have been told that they may not say "Merry Christmas" anymore in their official mail if they wish to use the franking privilege, that is, if they want to get their postage paid at tax payer's expense.

And every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is controversy about whether retailers
will allow their clerks and cashiers to wish customers "Merry Christmas."

I suspect that in a few years there will be a push to give December 25 a new name.

We know that "Season's Greetings" is already a common euphemsism. Maybe the PCP (the Politically Correct Police) will being on enough pressure to designate December 25 as "Greetings Day" or "Peace On Earth Day" or "Winter's Holiday" (although that last one won't work in the southern hemisphere).

Well, whatever they try to foist off on us, it will still be for Christians the feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.

And even if the PCP are successful in coining a new name for it, many of us English-speaking Catholics will cling to our traditional "Merry Christmas!"

That greeting will make us smile because on that holy day we gather at Mass to celebrate the Incarnation --our faith conviction that God took on human nature and pitched his tent among us.

It will still be Jesus' birthday no matter what the PCP call it. And we will still celebrate a Merry Christ Mass.

And I happily wish you a Merry Christ Mass too!

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