“Reason”

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

* * *

#10: Reason

            The tenth “declaration made to explain or justify action, decision, or conviction” listed by Al is the “basis or motive for an action, decision, or conviction” behind the holiday itself. That is to say, his reason number ten is the reason for Christmas.

            There occurred an intermission in the writing of this piece while I browsed online for the literal definition of the word “Christmas”. A bit of Googling led me to an article which states:

The World Book Encyclopedia defines “Christmas” as follows:  “The word Christmas comes from “Cristes Maesse”, an early English phrase that means “Mass of Christ.” …The word “Mass” in religious usage means a “death sacrifice.” (“The True Meaning of Christ-Mass”, David J. Meyer)

            Meyer proceeded to go on a tirade about the satanic evil inherent in a holiday where people go around laughing, “Merry death of Christ!” (Full diatribe found here, for any who care to see.) I’m gonna go ahead and respectfully disagree with this guy’s view. I’m well aware that the idea of a midwinter celebration has pagan origins (plenty of history on that here), and anyone can tell that Christmas has undergone its share of secularization. What surprises me is that the “Merry death of Christ” detail offended Meyer the way it did. See if you follow my reasoning:

            Some two-thousand-odd years ago, God sent his son to be born on earth. The reason behind this? The world needed a Christ – a Messiah – a hero to save us from our just desserts for the misdeeds it’s been in our nature to commit since Adam and Eve’s big goof-up. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and only a perfect death sacrifice would cover all of humanity. Well, shoot; none of us are perfect. So enter Jesus of Nazareth, born for the sole purpose of living a perfect life to offer on our behalf before returning to Godhood with his father. We Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth because he’d come to die for us. In light of that, why not hail each other with a “Merry death of Christ”? Sounds like the last laugh’s on Satan, to me!

            Leave it to God to rock our world, eh, Al?

            Al nods vigorously and self-quotes, “I mean, salvation aside, I say we owe him just for this awesome holiday!”

            It stands to reason.

3 thoughts on ““Reason”

  1. As a former Catholic (but still religious), I can comment on where the David Meyer article gets it wrong about the “meaning” of Christmas. It’s true that the word comes from Old English “Cristes Maesse”, which means “Christ’s Mass” – but his derivation for “Mass” is totally off. It comes from Vulgate Latin “Messa”, which refers to the Eucharistic Service – i.e. a religious observance in which a eucharist or a reenactment of the Last Supper is held. In traditional Catholic observance (from whence the word ultimately comes), every church service is a eucharistic service – they never gather together in communion without a eucharist.

    Digging even further back, the word ultimately comes from “Missa” and from there to “Mittere”, which means “To Send, to go forth”, and the word apparently relates to the concluding words of the Latin Mass “Ite, Missa est”, which is the dismissal from the mass. The word “mass” in fact also shares common roots with the word “Mess” as used in the phrase “Mess Hall” – i.e. a place where a common meal is served (by way of the usage that food is “sent” or placed on a table; incidentally the modern use of the word “mess” as in “disarray, disorder, etc.” goes through the same etymology, and relates to the sense of “mess” as in “food/meal”). Pulled that all from the Online Etymology Dictionary (an occasional haunt of mine, me being a bit of a linguaphile and etymology nerd).

    So… no… it’s not “Happy Death of Christ Day”. It’s “Merry Religious Celebration of Christ Day”. Or if you want to take it back to it’s deepest Latin roots, it’s “Merry Sending Forth of Christ Day”.

    As long as we’re on the subject of the “true meaning of Christmas”, of course, we could go on about the agglutination of the pagan midwinter/solstice celebration and the celebration of Christ’s birth – historical evidence suggests that Christ was born in the Spring, and other things I’ve seen suggest even more specifically some time in the month of April – but that’s a separate question to the shoddy etymology…

    • Ah! Good to know. Poor Meyer, working himself up into a frenzy over a questionably-translated word. “Merry Sending Forth of Christ Day” has a grand ring to it, indeed!
      Thanks for taking the time to enrich the conversation, Stephen, and for the etymology dictionary resource; I look forward to checking that out!

      • The problem was, he was looking at a modern-day Catholic explanation of the worship service which they call the “Mass”, and going with the idea that a modern explanation of the Mass can square with an archaic usage of the term. That’s not how language works… It’s pretty clear in reading his article that he’s not a linguist. (As he says: “words matter”. But you don’t get to retroactively invent new definitions for existing words that have no such definition in common usage. It’s poor scholarship.)

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