Merry Crissmas

Putting Christ (the word) in Thanksgiving

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It is the season to say Merry Christmas and we hear it all around. But listen carefully and you’ll hear folks say Merry Crissmas. No one says Christ-mas.

Something similar occurs with christening. When baptizing a child or when being admitted into a religious group, we use the verb to christen. But we say to crissen.

When perusing the other European languages we find many words for Christmas, but no one puts Christ in their seasonal celebration: Jul, Noel, Weihnachten, Navidad, Kerstmis. Some names clearly point to the newborn baby, but other words point to several nights of consecration, like in German. Yul, in another example, is celebrated for 12 days in Scandinavia.

Let’s check out if in writing that seasonal word got modified to make it look Christian (note how there is a clear T in Christian) and whether it can be postulated that the verb to christen (without the T sound) is an original English verb, not based on the Greek word Christ and therefore pagan in origin. Are you ready for some linguistic trips that you can either believe in or not?

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The word used for the Messiah in Greek is Christ and it means anointed. To anoint is a holy act, and we can link this to the German word weihen, to consecrate or ordain, as found in Weih-nachten. Anoint is the oily version of to appoint. With a sacred oil, a baby or adult is appointed as the ordained leader of an entire community. The anointment of Christ declares Jesus’ appointment by God as leader, celebrated by an entire world religion.

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Most European languages belong to the same family, allowing us to consider a common backdrop for similar sounding words. Linguistics is not a scientific endeavor, so expect an artful display of broad and refined strokes on this canvas. There is no need to fully agree with the following.

Dutch is a close relative of English, and right where we lose the T in both to christen and Christmas, Dutch uses ‘to kersten’ and Kerstmis. Contrast this with where we pronounce the T in both Christian and Christ, and the Dutch use Christen and Christus, visually similar to our words and all pronounced with that T.

While we write the word Christ in all these English words, yet pronounce the words as if they are following more than one rule, Dutch uses two distinct words: Christ and Kerst. They look similar; they sound similar as well.

To ‘kersten’ means to convert, much like to christen entails a new dedication, a consecration, a baptism. The old ways are left behind, and a new and better pathway is taken. Based on seeing two separate words in Dutch, it can be postulated that in English two words exist as well: Christ and Criss.

It appears that Criss means the movement away from a previous no-longer desired state to the better, warmer, lighter and much more desired state. As such, both Criss and Christ do fit the bill for our celebration. With Criss, the seasonal moment when the shorter days become longer days again is indicated. With Christ, the person specifically appointed to show us the way to being better humans is indicated.

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Let’s continue with the word Criss and look for similar sounding words, trying to find that common backdrop for a more complete linguistic painting. With Crisscross, one can recognize movement indeed, a back and forth that becomes a singular movement when using Cross all by itself.

Cruise is a vacation trip on board a vessel that goes from port to port, indicating a wavy pattern for movement that nevertheless will end where it all began.

Crest is a mountain top, though some would say a mountain range, indicating a wavy pattern of ups and downs of mountain sides against a blue sky, or indeed that summit all by itself. Note how the T appeared in the word.
Crest can also indicate a wave in its upward thrust, cresting at its highest point and filled with motion.
Meanwhile, Crest like found on a cock’s head indicates a comb or set of feathers and finishes the descriptions of Crest as all containing a wavy pattern somehow related to a top.

Crust is the hardened outside on a loaf of bread, indicating a pattern that does not point to a single top, but rather to the top layer that shows disorganized hodgepodge patterns. It is a bit Coarse, like that unintended Crease in your shirt, sticking out like a sore thumb in need of ironing out.

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It is not uncommon for the ‘r’ to switch position with the vowel — think Coarse and Crease — and the Dutch language helps out again making the point. The English word is followed by the Dutch equivalent:

  • crust v. korst
  • breast v. borst
  • cart v. krat

These are just three examples where both languages use almost identical words in which the ‘r’ changed position with the vowel.

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Though Crisis is a bit outside the singular sound range of Criss, it can occur during the Course of a serious disease. With high fevers, a Crescendo of temperatures may get reached before betterment sets in.

Christies, a Norwegian term, are ski movements of making zigzag patterns while flying down the snowy hillsides.

Considered a word outside the Indo-European language family, kris, a Malay dagger, has a wavy pattern for its blade. The sword is also known as Creese.

All these words appear to point to some form of change. If we were to appoint a word to the trek of the sun in the winter sky, with days changing into becoming longer again, then Criss would be a perfect fit.

Lastly, don’t we write Xmas at times? And crossing as Xing? They are playful reminders that sounds can get written down in more than one way. Nevertheless, they can make some folks feel Cross about the display and for sure someone Cries foul somewhere right now about these aberrations.

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Let’s get back to Greek to review the word Christ one more time, because there is something to mention other than it being a translation of ‘anointed’. The word Eucharist points us in the right direction, and literally means Thanksgiving.

When reviewing the word Christ, the actual Greek use is Char-ist, with char also visible in charity and charisma. Charity is a form of giving, while charisma points to a person we’d call out as gifted. All of a sudden another angle becomes visible to the deeper meaning of change, because giving is a literal act involving change from one hand to another.

We therefore have an explanation why the French, Spaniards and Italians do not use the sounds of Criss for seasonal celebrations, because they are using the word in their daily lives so much already. Saying Grace can occur anytime of the year, because there is much to be thankful for. Saying thank you in Spanish one can hear Gracias, and in Italian Grazie.

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The word Criss appears to indicate change, used in a positive context, for a brighter and better future.

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Happy Holidays. Merry Crissmas. Merry Christmas.

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