As a beginner-level German speaker in high school, some of the first phrases I learned were greetings and salutations, such as “Alles gute zum Geburtstag!” (“Happy birthday!”), “Frohe Erntedankfest!” (“Happy Thanksgiving!”, even though Germans don’t celebrate the same holiday we Americans do), and “Frohe Weihnachten!” (“Merry Christmas!”). The cool thing about German is that if you know a few nouns, it’s pretty easy to figure out the longer compound ones. In the examples above, Geburtstag is a combination of the words “birth” and “day” (as is our English equivalent), and Erntedankfest would translate to something like “thankful celebration of the harvest.”
Weihnachten is a little more interesting. The first part of the word comes from the verb weihen, meaning to consecrate, anoint, or sanctify. The second part of the word is similar to the German word for night, die Nacht. So, using some logic and very rudimentary translation skills, we get a translation of Weihnachten as “sacred night.” Or, maybe, just maybe, “holy night.”
But wait, there’s more. The German prefix Weih- means “votive,” which is defined as “offered or consecrated in fulfillment of a vow.”
So, why is the night sacred or holy? Because something was offered to fulfill a vow. What (or who) was offered?
God promised to send the world that rejected Him a savior so that mankind could be reconciled with Him (Isaiah 53). One night, one holy night in a little Judean town called Bethlehem, that savior came. He was Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14): God incarnated in human flesh, born to a virgin. His name is Jesus.
This is not my attempt to preach or theologize, but merely a small exposition of the meaning behind a German word I learned in tenth grade. May we keep the Christ in Christmas and remember that holy night, the night of the fulfilled vow.
I wish you a merry Christmas und ein frohe Weihnachten.