Christmas – a wonderland of magical words.

Today sees the start of BrandPie's very own 12 Days of Christmas. Each day or so we will share an article triggered by the magic of Christmas and the holiday season. You can find them on the conversations section of the BrandPie website. Founder, Dave Allen, kicks off the festivities!

In this first article I am going to look into the origins of some of those all too familiar words that we associate with this time of year. The holiday season gives us a real melting pot of wonderful words - a truly emotive lexicon.

There is Christmas itself, then Noel, Yuletide, Nativity, Xmas, The Christmas Carol, the 12 Days of Christmas, Santa Claus, Ho Ho Ho and more - but where do they all come from? What are there origins?

Let's deal with Christmas first. The word Christmas literally comes from Christ's Mass. It is an early compound name like the ones we create today - Skyscraper, toothpaste or Blackberry. Its first recorded usage was in 1038AD arriving just in time for the battle of Hastings!

Humans being humans it was quickly abbreviated, into Xmas. A word that still causes much debate about when and where to use it. The 1948 Vogue's book of etiquette states that 'Xmas should never be used in greetings cards'. The X in Xmas comes from the initial letter chi (X) in Greek. The first letter of the greek word for Christ, Christos.  Simple.

Many of the words we associate with Christmas came into the lexicon from other cultures. The Anglo-Saxons and Germanic people celebrated the feast of Midwinter or Yule. The god Odin played a big role. A central feature of Yuletide is the Yule Log - which is a specially selected log burnt during the festivities.  Today we see it on the table as the Yule Log or more familiar chocolate log - yummy.

At school many of us took part in the dreaded nativity play - usually as a shepherd or angel. 'Nativity' meaning birth is from the latin nativitas.  Noel came into the verbal identity a little bit later (14th century) and comes from the french noël which itself comes from the latin natalis "(day) of birth".

Speeding on to the twelve days of Christmas, also known as Twelvetide. This is a festive Christian season to celebrate the nativity of Jesus. The 12 days are 25th Dec to the 5th January. The wreath has strong associations with the 12 days of Christmas and is believed to have originated in America. The making of the wreath from greenery and fruits was one of the traditions of Christmas eve. It was hung from Christmas night through to 12th night. And this is why we all take our decorations down on that day! It is bad luck if you don't!

Boxing day or St Stephen's day is another intriguing piece of naming. Traditionally celebrated the day following Christmas day it gets its name from the 'Christmas Boxes' that were used by employers to give gifts to their servants and tradesmen in the 17th and 18th centuries. Having waited on their masters on Christmas day this was also traditionally the day servants were allowed to visit their families. The idea of the Christmas box is in turn believed to go back to the 'Alms Box' from the Middle Ages that was placed in areas of worship to collect donations for the poor.

Next the Christmas Carol. Now almost exclusively associated with Christmas the carol is derived from the old french word carole, a circle dance accompanied by singers. Caroles were very popular from the 1150s to the 1350s. The equivalent of today's pop music. Also did you know in December 1988 Chris Rea released 'Driving Home from Christmas' as a single and was surprised by how many people referred to it as a carol. A truly up to date and modern 'car version of a carol'.

In 1843, the first commercial christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole, spawning an industry today worth billions of dollars. Say no more. Today we have the e-card. Is this really progress?

And finally there is the main man - Santa Claus. A neat piece of naming if ever their was one. His name comes from the Dutch figure of SinterKlaas, whose name is a dialectal pronunciation of Saint Nicholas. During the Christianisation of Germanic Europe this figure apparently absorbed elements of Odin (remember him from Yuletide). Amongst other things Odin led the wild hunt in midwinter - a ghostly procession across the sky. Was this the basis of Santa flying around the world on a sleigh pulled by reindeer?

So there you have it. The origins of the lexicon of Christmas. Formed over 2000 years from many traditions and cultures. It is a wonderland of words that have come together to represent what we all know today as Christmas, or Xmas, or Noel ... Happy Holidays, Frohe Festtage, Bon Noël and Felices Fiestas.