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What is the meaning of Christmas in the English language?

Christ + mas = Christmas?

Is it because Christ is associated with a cross that it sometimes reads X-mas?

And where is the mas coming from?

I am Portuguese, and in my language we call "Natal" what you call "Christmas", which are very different words. Sometimes our languages have similarities in origins, but both seem very different in this case.

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closed as general reference by Hugo, tchrist, Kris, RegDwigнt Dec 24 '12 at 12:40

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

1 Answer

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Wikipedia has the answer for you:

"Christmas" is a compound word originating in the term "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. Crīst (genitive Crīstes) is from Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of Hebrew Māšîaḥ (מָשִׁיחַ), "Messiah"; and mæsse is from Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist. The form "Christenmas" was also historically used, but is now considered archaic and dialectal; it derives from Middle English Cristenmasse, literally "Christian mass". "Xmas" is an abbreviation of Christmas found particularly in print, based on the initial letter chi (Χ) in Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), "Christ", though numerous style guides discourage its use; it has precedent in Middle English Χρ̄es masse (where "Χρ̄" is an abbreviation for Χριστός).

~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#Etymology

The X has nothing to do with a cross.

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There are other feasts ending in -mas, though they are little known outside the church: Candlemas and Michaelmas are probably the only two anybody knows. –  TimLymington Dec 23 '12 at 12:14
    
There's another interesting variation, known as Lammas, which is celebrated on August 1. The name comes from the Old English words hlaf-mas, meaning Loaf Mass, and it represents the first harvest festival of the year — good news for a people whose resources were stretched very thin during the "hungry gap" month of July, when their annual stores of food were exhausted and starvation reigned. Small wonder that the loaf in question was blessed and venerated as a sacred object. –  Robusto Dec 23 '12 at 12:42
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@Tim, yes, but in the first centuries of Christianity the letter chi was often used as a symbol of the faith. However in modern English these two words rarely appear in written texts :) –  user19148 Dec 23 '12 at 12:43
    
@Robus, though it may be implied in your 2nd sentence, it may be worth explicitly mentioning that some people believe the transition away from Old English confused the mass and the food. –  user19148 Dec 23 '12 at 13:31
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@GEdgar: How many teachers, let alone pupils, could tell you the date of Michaelmas? Very few English lawyers could, though the legal year is still in theory divided into Trinity, Michaelmas and Whitsun terms. –  TimLymington Dec 23 '12 at 17:37
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