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Wishing you a merry multilingual Christmas December 5, 2019

Posted by Pete B in multilingualism.

The Christmas story has now been translated into well over 3000 languages. So, is it possible to say “Merry Christmas” in all of those?

Possibly not, but I did find links to how to say something more or less appropriate in over 400 languages thanks to WhyChristmas and Omniglot



You could use these sites to create your own multilingual slide or banner to cover many of the languages spoken in your community. (You could use this in church or at carol singing out in the community, and ask people to add other languages, perhaps leading to discussion about what it means to them.)

I’m encouraging my friends and colleagues around the world to submit the appropriate phrase in a few more languages but am aware that it might not always be so simple.

Greetings are not just about translating the words and find words for “Merry” and “Christmas” (Christmas itself being a composite of “Christ and Mass”). For a start if you were to Google “Merry Christmas vs Happy Christmas” you’d find all sorts of people weighing into the discussion as to whether there is a cultural divide between Brits and Americans over this. (apparently the Queen wishes her subjects “Happy Christmas”).

Merry | Definition of Merry by Merriam-Webster
merry, blithe, jocund, jovial, jolly mean showing high spirits or lightheartedness. merry suggests cheerful, joyous, uninhibited enjoyment of frolic or festivity. a merry group of revelers blithe suggests carefree, innocent, or even heedless gaiety.

https://www.merriam-webster.com › dictionary › merry

Brits don’t tend to use the word “Merry” on it’s own these days unless to mean “slightly drunk”.

What you are really looking for when you translate the phrase is to look for a culturally appropriate phrase to greet people and wish them well at Christmas time. This may or may not vary depending on whether they believe in Christ or celebrate Christmas.

As Christmas is not a word used in the Bible some languages have borrowed it independently of their word for Christ. So in the lists of translations there are some phrases which are simply the English “Merry Christmas” written in another script, one which translated as “Christian New Year”. Others appear to be loan words from the language and culture that introduced the holiday.

For the greetings in the graphic I used Google translate to translate them back into English. I created the graphic above using powerpoint and the cartoons of our family were made using bitmoji. And for those wondering what some of the languages are, here’s the list.

You can access the Google slide version of this at http://bit.ly/multilingualchristmas and make your own copies or download as a powerpoint. Meanwhile take a look at some of the other posts in the #multilingualchurch section of our site (or any other bits) and have a vrolijk kerstfeest!

Merry ChristmasMerry Christmas
Dutchvrolijk kerstfeestSwahiliKrismasi Njema
TagalogMaligayang PaskoAmharicመልካም ገና
PortugueseFeliz NatalCantonese聖誕快樂
RussianСчастливого рождестваGermanFrohe Weihnachten
Scots GaelicNollaig ChridheilKorean메리 크리스마스
WelshNadolig LlawenPolishWesołych Świąt
FrenchJoyeux NoëlGreekΚαλά Χριστούγεννα
MalaySelamat Hari NatalNepaliक्रस्मसको शुभकामना
Kurdish (kurmanji)Kirîstmas piroz be


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