Christmas Words

Words Associated With Christianity and the Christmas Season

When we think of Christmas, certain thoughts and images instantly come to mind. Familiar sights, sounds, flavors, colors, and words each resonate with impressions of the season. This collection of Christmas words contains terms specifically associated with the Christian faith. I've begun this list as an ongoing project to be updated with new Christmas words each year.

Incidentally, the word Christmas is derived from the Old English expression Cristes Maesse, meaning "Christ's mass" or "Mass of Christ."

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Advent Wreath
Advent Wreath. Image: Bernhard Lang / Getty Images

The distinctly Christmas word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means "arrival" or "coming," particularly of something having great importance. Advent denotes the season of preparation before Christmas, and for many Christian denominations it marks the beginning of the church year. During this time, Christians make themselves spiritually ready for the coming or birth of Jesus Christ.

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Angel Statue
Angel Statue. Image: © Bill Fairchild

Angels played a major role in the Christmas story. First, the angel Gabriel appeared to the newly engaged Mary to announce that she would soon conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Next, just after her husband-to-be, Joseph, was stunned with the news of Mary's pregnancy, an angel appeared to him in a dream, explaining that the child in Mary's womb was conceived by the Spirit of God, that his name would be Jesus and that he was the Messiah. And, of course, a great host of angelic beings appeared to shepherds tending flocks near Bethlehem to announce that the Savior had been born.

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Church of the Nativity
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Photo: Getty Images

The prophet Micah foretold that Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born in the humble town of Bethlehem. And just as he prophesied, it came to pass. Joseph, being from the family line of King David, was required to return to his hometown of Bethlehem to register for a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Bethlehem is perhaps the most treasured location in all of biblical history.

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Census
Biblical Censuses. Image: © Bill Fairchild

One long-familiar census in the Bible held an important role in our Savior's birth. Yet, there are several other censuses recorded in Scripture. The book of Numbers, for example, acquired its name from the two military censuses taken of the people of Israel. Learn the biblical meaning of census and discover where each numbering took place in the Bible.

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Nativity Play
Nativity Play At Wintershall Estate in England. Photo: Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

The word Immanuel, first mentioned by the prophet Isaiah, means "God is with us." Isaiah predicted that a savior would be born of a virgin and would live with his people. More than 700 years later, Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled that prophecy when he was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Discover how God lived with his people as Immanuel then and still does today.

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Orthodox Christians Celebrate Epiphany
Orthodox Christians Celebrate Epiphany. Photo: David Silverman / Getty Images

Epiphany, also called "Three Kings Day" and "Twelfth Day," is commemorated on January 6. The word epiphany means "manifestation" or "revelation" and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. This holiday falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Although many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.

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Frankincense
Frankincense was one of the gifts offered to Jesus by the wise men from the East. Photo: Daisy Gilardini / Getty Images

Frankincense is the gum or resin of the Boswellia tree, used for making perfume and incense. The Hebrew word for it is labonah, which means "white," referring to the gum's color. The English word frankincense comes from a French expression meaning "free incense" or "free burning." But when the wise men brought frankincense to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, it was certainly not free. Rather, this gift was a very costly and precious substance, and it held special significance. Frankincense predicted the unique role the ascended Jesus would play in heaven, on behalf of humanity.

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Christmas Angel Gabriel
Stained Glass Depiction of the Angel Gabriel. Photo: Getty Images

The Christmas angel, Gabriel, was chosen by God to announce the birth of the long-anticipated Messiah, Jesus Christ. First, he visited Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, to let him know that his wife Elizabeth would miraculously give birth to a son. They were to name the baby John, and he would lead the way to the Messiah. Later, Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary saying, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High..." (Luke 1:30-32, NIV)

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Hallelujah Chorus Score
Hallelujah Chorus Score. Image: © Bill Fairchild

Hallelujah is an exclamation of praise and worship transliterated from two Hebrew words meaning "Praise ye the Lord." Although the expression has become quite popular today, it was used rather sparingly in the Bible. Nowadays, hallelujah is recognized as a Christmas word thanks to German composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). His timeless "Hallelujah Chorus" from the masterpiece oratorio has become one of the best-known and widely loved Christmas presentations of all time.

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Prince of Peace by Akiane
Prince of Peace, Painted by Akiane, Age 8. Image Courtesy of www.artakiane.com

Our Christmas word list would not be complete without the inclusion of Jesus Christ--the precise reason for the Christmas season. The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew-Aramaic word Yeshua, meaning "Yahweh [the Lord] is salvation." The name Christ is actually a title for Jesus. It comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning "the Anointed One," or "Messiah" in Hebrew. While most Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day (December 25), the exact date of his birth is unknown.

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Joseph
Jesus working as a boy in his Father Joseph's carpentry shop in Nazareth. Photo: Getty Images

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a major player in the Christmas story. The Bible says Joseph was a righteous man, and certainly, his actions surrounding the birth of Jesus revealed a great deal about his strength of character and integrity. Could this be why God honored Joseph, choosing him to be Messiah's earthly father?

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The Magi with Mary and Baby Jesus
The Magi with Mary and Baby Jesus. Photo: The Palma Collection / Getty Images

The Three Kings, or Magi, followed a mysterious star to find the young Messiah, Jesus Christ. God warned them in a dream that the child might be murdered, and told them how to protect him. Beyond this, very few details are given about these men in the Bible. Most of our ideas about them actually come from tradition or speculation. Scripture does not reveal how many wise men there were, but it is generally assumed three, since they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

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Mary the Mother of Jesus
Mary the Mother of Jesus; Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (1640-1650). Image: Public Domain

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was only a young girl, probably just 12 or 13, when the angel Gabriel came to her. She had recently become engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl looking forward to marriage when suddenly her life changed forever. A willing servant, Mary trusted God and obeyed his call--perhaps the most important calling ever given to a human being.

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Myrrh
In preparation for burial, Jesus' body was packed in myrrh, then wrapped in linen cloths. Photo: Alison Miksch/FoodPix/Getty Images

Myrrh was an expensive spice used in ancient times for making perfume, incense, medicine, and for anointing the dead. It appears three times in the life of Jesus Christ. At his birth, it was one of the costly gifts presented to Jesus by the wise men. Learn a few facts about myrrh, a mysterious spice from the Bible.

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Nativity of Jesus
A traditional Christmas nativity scene portrays the birth of Jesus in a stable with displays of figurines. Photo: Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

The word Nativity comes from the Latin term nativus, which means "born." It refers to the birth of a person and also the facts of their birth, such as the time, place, and situation. The Bible mentions the nativity of several prominent characters, but today the term is used primarily in connection with the birth of Jesus Christ. At Christmas time "nativity sets" are commonly used to depict the manger scene where Jesus was born.

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The Star of Bethlehem DVD
The Star of Bethlehem DVD. Image: © Courtesy Mpower Pictures

A mysterious star played an unusual role in the Christmas story. The Gospel of Matthew tells how wise men from the East traveled thousands of miles doggedly following a star to the place of Jesus' birth. When they found the child with his mother, they bowed and worshiped the newborn Messiah, presenting him with gifts. To this day, a 14-pointed silver Star of Bethlehem in the Church of the Nativity marks the spot where Jesus was born.