With Christmas around the corner, I thought it only fitting to review how to say the holiday in Hebrew and Arabic while exploring its similarities and differences. As both Hebrew and Arabic belong to the Semitic family of languages, the similarities here outweigh the differences. Hebrew belongs to the Northwest Semitic family of languages whereas Arabic belongs to the Southwest Semitic Family.
The Hebrew and Arabic translations of Christmas directly convey the actual significance of the holiday, the birth of Jesus, whereas the modern English name is the shortened form of Christ’s Mass.
In Hebrew, Christmas translates as Khag Ha’Molad חג המולד. Khag (חג) means holiday or festival in Hebrew, and originally inferred a festival involving a pilgrimage, such as the annual pilgrimage that Jews in antiquity made to Jerusalem for Passover, including Jesus during the Last Supper. Khag or Chag also shares the same root as the Arabic Hajj (حج), which means pilgrimage and is most recognized in regards to the Mulsim Hajj.
Molad (מולד) means ‘birth’ in Hebrew and the letter He, pronounced here as Ha (ה) to serve as the definite article, means ‘the’, hence ‘the birth’. The noun Molad (מולד) derives from the Hebrew verb Le-Hivaled (להיוולד) to be born. Note that in this context Molad can also mean nativity. The Hebrew verb Le-Hivaled (להיוולד) shares the same meaning as the Arabic root و ل د (w-l-d / walada) which also means ‘to be born’. Note that the v (vav) in Hebrew and the w (waw) in Arabic are in essence the same letter and when used alone both mean ‘and’. Thus, to close out the Hebrew, Christmas literally translates as Khag Ha’Molad – Holiday of the Birth (Nativity) / Festival of the Birth (Nativity). If you want to say ‘Have a Merry Christmas’ in Hebrew you’d say Khag Molad Sameakh (חג מולד שמח), Khag Krismas Sameakh (חג כריסמס שמח) or more simply just Khag Sameakh (חג שמח). Sameakh (שמח) means ‘happy’ or ‘merry’ and Krismas (כריסמס) is Christmas.
The Arabic translation of Christmas is very similar to the Hebrew, minus the use of Khag / Hajj as Hajj in Arabic has come to solely refer to the main Muslim Hajj. In Arabic, Christmas translates as Eid Almilad (عيد الميلاد). Eid (عيد) in Arabic translates as ‘holiday’, ‘feast’, or ‘festival’ and derives from the Arabic verb of the same root which means ‘to celebrate’ or ‘to observe a feast’. Al (ال) is Arabic’s definite article meaning ‘the’ and is related to the Hebrew El (אל), although in Modern Hebrew El (אל) by itself isn’t used in the same way as the definite article Ha (ה). Milad (ميلاد) means ‘birth’, which is very similar to the Hebrew Molad. Similar to the Hebrew noun Molad (מולד) deriving from the verb Le-Hivaled (להיוולד), the Arabic noun Milad (ميلاد) derives from the Arabic root و ل د (w-l-d / walada), noted above. If you want to say ‘Have a Merry Christmas’ / ‘Merry Christmas’ in Arabic, you can say Eid Milad Saeid (عيد ميلاد سعيد), Milad Majiid (ميلاد مجيد), and Wulida Almasih (وُلِد المسيح). Saeid means ‘happy’ or ‘merry’, Majiid can mean ‘glorious’, ‘celebrated’, or ‘merry’, Wulida (وُلِد) is the passive form of (w-l-d / walada) meaning ‘he was born’, and Masih (مسيح) means Messiah, so ‘the Messiah/Savior was born’. Masih in Arabic is closely related to the Hebrew Mashiach/Mashiakh (משיח), which also means Messiah or ‘Anointed One’.
Lastly, seeing as Jesus neither spoke Hebrew or Arabic, it’s only fitting we cover how to say Merry Christmas in Aramaic, which was the lingua franca of the Middle East and the language spoken by Jews during Jesus’ lifetime. As a disclaimer, I have never studied Aramaic, but as a student of Hebrew and Arabic, with the help of some Googling I can break down the translation as it contains similarities to both languages. In Aramaic, Merry Christmas translates as ‘Eedookh Breekha’. Similar to the Arabic word for feast or holiday ‘Eid’, the Aramaic word for festival translates as ‘Eed’. ‘Okh’ is the possessive ‘your’ or ‘yours’ in Aramaic and is related to the Hebrew ‘Kha’ (ךָ) and the Arabic ‘Ka’ (ـكَ). ‘Breekha’ translates as ‘Blessed’ and is closely related to the Hebrew ‘Baruch/Barukh’ (בָּרוּך).
Now that we have examined how to say Christmas in three Near Eastern languages, it’s important to recognize the common roots we all share and enter the new year observing our similarities rather than our differences.
Happy New Year from Foreigncy! If you’re interested in exploring some of our Arabic and Hebrew lessons related to Christmas, see below:
Arabic – The Christians of Gaza
Hebrew – The prettiest Christmas trees