The Translation of Christmas

By / 14 December 2015 / Professional translation

The Translation of Christmas: continuing awareness

Nineteen days after Saint Nicholas’ Day (here’s the link back to our article on the translation of this day), hundreds of thousands of people all over the world turn their daily lives and above all their provisional budgets upside down to celebrate Christmas day.

The translation of Christmas into practice currently involves an exaltation of all things commercial even if, fundamentally, nobody seems to have forgotten its religious roots. Let’s compare the different translations of Christmas in Mytranslation’s languages!

The Translation of Christmas: time-capsule words

It’s striking that the romance languages highlight Christ’s birth, whereas the Germanic ones place greater emphasis on the celebrations held for him in church.

The Translation of Christmas - Dictionnaire Gaffiot français-latin - Page 1014 - nativitas

The Translation of Christmas – Latin-French Gaffiot dictionary – Page 1014 – nativitas

For example, the Spanish translation of Christmas is “Navidad, its etymology linking it to the Latin word, “nātīvitās” meaning “birth”. The Italian translation of Christmas is “Natale” and the Portuguese translation, “Natal.

In Portugal, Christmas Eve is a bank holiday and almost everyone goes to Midnight Mass. When the bells ring out for midnight, believers celebrate “Missa do Galo” (literally, “the cockerel’s mass”) in their local churches. Tradition has it that a cockerel crowed on the morning of Christmas day to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth [2].

The Translation of Christmas in German, Dutch and English

The German translation of Christmas is “Weihnachten”, literally, “solemn night”. Celebrations start well before the 24th December according to Advent. Four Sundays before the day itself, candles are lit in garlands (“Kranzen”) hung on the doors of houses. Let’s not forget those special cakes baked at the beginning of December: “Plätzchen”!

The English word, “Christmas” (as in “Christ’s mass”) is very close to the one used in Dutch (“Kerstmis”). Every year in the Netherlands, “Sinterklaas” (“Santa Claus”) arrives on a steamboat from Spain. On the photo just below, you should be able to make out Amsterdam’s famous symbol of three St Andrew’s crosses [3].

The Translation of Christmas - Pablo, Sinterklaas (Flickr)

The Translation of Christmas – Pablo, Sinterklaas (Flickr)

In any case, wherever you are in the world, Mytranslation wishes you very merry holidays!

Sources and photo credits

[1] – Lexilogos: online version of the Gaffiot Latin>French dictionary (webpage in French, a Mytranslation language)
[2] – Brasil Escola: A missa do gallo (webpage in Portuguese, a Mytranslation language)
[3] – IAmsterdam: city symbols
[4] – Pablo, Sinterklaas (Flickr)

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