‘Merry Christmas’ in European languages (map)

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

The following map shows how to say (or rather write) the equivalent of “Merry Christmas” in European languages. The colouring corresponds to etymological relations between the translations of the word Christmas (i.e. not to language families and not to relations between other parts of the phrase).

This leads to a few unexpected results. Even though Romanian and Hungarian are completely unrelated languages, the words karácsony and Crăciun come from a common root (either Proto-Slavic *korčiti or Latin creātiōnem).

Something similarly strange happens in Czech and Slovak. The word Vánoce resp. Vianoce is derived from German Weihnachten by retaining the “Weih” part (which comes from an old Germanic expression meaning “holy”) and replacing nachten (“nights”) by the Czech/Slovak translation, “noce”. However, the word “noce” itself comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as German “Nachten” (and English “nights”), so the Czech/Slovak and German expressions are essentially etymologically equivalent.


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