Christmas, Xmas, Noel, Yule. So many names. But why? Christmas: Christ-mass. That one’s simple enough. “X” is the first letter of the word Christ in Greek (Χριστος), hence Xmas. Noel comes from French, and ultimately the Latin, for “birth” [that is, of Jesus]. Yule, on the other hand, was originally the name for a heathen feast of around the same period in Northern Europe. Yule is therefore the homeborn English word.
But what is the true meaning of Christmas? Father Christmas, gifts, and feasting? Family, charity, peace on Earth? The baby Jesus?
As a non-Christian, I like to use Yule to consciously stand for the cultural, as opposed to religious, celebration. Why? Because “Christmas” is and always has been about more than just Christianity. The Church, in a rather savvy move, would often recast local heathen festivals in a Christian mould. And the winter festivities were no different. Therefore, the Christian aspect is but one part of the Christmas period. So why should I tacitly let Christians take the Christmas period as their own, let them dictate to me and the rest of society how, when, and why I should celebrate the period? Christmas is as much mine as it is a Christian’s. Eventually the word Yule fell out of use, except in some dialects, and was brought back to mainstream life in the nineteenth century. Therefore Christians can keep the word Christmas if they like; the rest of us have Yule.
I don’t celebrate Christmas. I celebrate Yule. Happy Yule, everybody!
© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry
article adapted from my article Yule and the Months posted at my blog Wrixlings.
featured image from http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2012-12-out-with-christmas-in-with-yule