Christmas Etymology

As a child, and like most children, Christmas is magical. But, as an adult now, I wondered where these Christmas names come from. Below is a short list of some of the most popular words used to symbolize Christmas.

Rudolph = from German Rudolf, from Old High German Hrodulf, meaning “fame-wolf.”

Santa Claus = used in 1773, a bishop from the Asia Minor who became a saint patron for children. Santa Claus is American English, from the dialectical Dutch Sante Klass. Saint Nicholas is Middle Dutch Sinter NiklassFather Christmas became popularized in the 1650s.

Comet = Old French comete, with Latin origins, cometa, which came from Greek, kometes.  The Greek meaning is “long-haired (star),” kome meaning “hair of the head.” It was first used in the 1200s.

Prancer = used in the 1560s, theives’ slang for “horse.”

Christmas = late Old English Cristes maesse and used as a noun. In the mid-14th century. written as one word. First use to be used as a verb in the 1590s, “to celebrate Christmas.”

Christmas tree = German Weihnachtsbaum and used in American English in 1835.

Ornament = Old French (13th century) ornement meaning “ornament, decoration.” But from Latin ornamentum meaning “apparatus, equipment, trappings, etc.” The word arrived in the English language in the late 14th century.

Gift = Old Norse gift, gipt meaning “gift; good luck.” First used in the mid-13th century meaning “that which is given.”

Elf = Old English elf from Proto-Germanic albiz (also origin for albino). The true origin is unknown as sources could come from Old Saxon alf, Old Norse alfr, and German alp.