Christmas today is celebrated by the Christian community in all European countries. During centuries, plenty of local differences in celebration and customs have developed, and even the name under which this holiday is known varies from country to country, originating either from the ancient pagan beliefs and feasts, or from the Christian doctrine.
Actually, the English “Christmas”, like the Dutch “Kersmis”, both derive from the phrases of the earlier languages (Anglo-Saxon and Middle Dutch, respectively) that meant “the Christ’s Mass”.
The Italian “Natale” and French “Noël”, as well as Irish, Welsh, Spanish and Portuguese names for the feast derive from the original Latin name “Dies Natalis Domini Nostri Iesu Christi” (the Day of the Nativity of our lord Jesus Christ), abbreviated to “Dies Natali Domini”. Also the Greek, Ukrainian, Polish and Russian names for Christmas have the similar meaning: the Nativity of Christ (God).
“Weihnachten” in German and its analogues in Czech and Slovak mean “the Holy Night(s)”, referring to the nights of the ancient Germanic midwinter celebrations. These pre-Christian celebrations are recalled also in the traditional Christmas names of the other Northern Europe countries: Ziemassvētki in Latvia, Joule in Estonia, Joulua in Finland, Jól in Iceland, and Jul in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Also the Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Belarusian names have ancient pagan roots, from the Slavic words related to the pre-Christian winter solstice celebrations. The Hungarian “Karácsony” and the Romanian “Crăciun” derive from the Slavic “korcun”, that means “to step across” and refers to the passing of the winter solstice and the beginning of a new cycle. The Bulgarian “Koleda” and the Bielorussian “Kalyady” recall the ancient celebration of the Sun which on winter solstice was believed to turn from winter to summer. The ancient name had possibly derived from the Latin “calendae” indicating the first day of the month.
In Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and Macedonian languages the names for the feast refer to South Slavic “Božić”, a mythological character associated with the sun and the new year.
Here are some examples of the typical Christmas greetings in European languages: