Unfamiliar or Misunderstood Words of Christmas

Christmas is a special time of the year. We often make time to visit family, give gifts, decorate, and celebrate. As the years go by and history passes there are certain traditions or meanings associated with Christmas that can become lost. Maybe you’ve read the Christmas story or sang carols and wondered what was meant by a certain word or phrase.

Here is a short list of some of the most unfamiliar or misunderstood words of Christmas:


Advent is a Latin word that means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Christians have used the word to celebrate the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. The advent season usually begins four weeks before Christmas.

Bethlehem is a small village in Israel where Jesus was born. Jesus actually grew up in Nazareth, but his parents traveled to Bethlehem while Mary was still pregnant by order of the Roman Emperor who demanded a census (Luke 2:1-7). This fulfilled the prophecy of Micah (cf. 5:2-5). Bethlehem was also the birth place of King David.

Christ the Lord was a title that is given to Jesus by the angel, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The title means ‘anointed’ or ‘savior’ (see Messiah).

Emmanuel (or Immanuel). The word itself means “God with us” in the Hebrew language. It was first prophesied by Isaiah about 700 years before Jesus was born (cf. 7:14). In the prophesy it was said there would be a savior who would come who’s name was Emmanuel. An angel later told Joseph, the step-father of Jesus, that his son would be called, Emmanuel (Matthew 1:22-23).

Frankincense an aromatic resin that comes from a special tree (see Exodus 30:34-38). The magi brought frankincense to Jesus’ birth as a present fit for a king (Matthew 2:11). It was a costly gift and a sweet smelling incense.

Gabriel was an angel and special character in the Christmas story. His role was to announce the birth of Jesus. He visited Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, to let him know that his wife Elizabeth would miraculously give birth to a son (Luke 1:11-20). They were to name the baby John, and he would lead the way to the Messiah. Later, Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38).

Glory was what the angels said observing the of Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the Highest.” (Luke 2:14) Glory means to give praise, honor and worship. the angels thought that the birth of Jesus was magnificent and their natural response was to praise God.

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that is translated into many languages meaning ‘Praise the Lord’.

Heavenly Host is another way to say a bunch of angels. After Jesus was born the heavens opened up with a multitude of angels praise God (Luke 2:14). These angels were visible, audible, and countless in number.

Incarnation is a person who embodies in flesh and blood a deity. Christians acknowledge Jesus is God with skin on. God became a man to save man from their sin (Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Hebrews 2:11 -14; 1 Timothy 3:16; Galatians 4:4). Jesus was 100% God and 100% man.

Jesus is the Greek name for the Hebrew name Joshua. It was the name given by the angel of the Lord in a dream to Jospeh in which he was told he would have a son through his virgin wife, Mary (Matthew 1:20-23).

Magi. The Bible tells us little about the magi. They are often referred to as wisemen, but they were likely astrologers as they were watching the night sky and followed a unique star to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12).

Messiah. The Jewish people had long been promised an ‘annointed one’ or ‘deliverer’ who would come to free them from sin and slavery (Genesis 3:15). Although the Jews rejected Jesus, the title of Messiah is given to Jesus by Christians who recognize him as the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament (Matthew 26:54; Mark 9:12; Luke 18:31; John 5:39; 26:22-23; Acts 2).

Myrrh was an expensive spice used in ancient times for making perfume, incense, medicine, and for anointing the dead. It appears three times in the life of Jesus Christ—his birth crucifixion, and burial (Matthew 2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39). At his birth, it was one of the costly gifts presented to Jesus by the wise men.

Nativity. We often think of it as a small display of figurines from the Christmas story like baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wisemen, manger and animals. In it’s Latin origin, the word nativity means ‘birth’, particularly the birth of Jesus Christ.

Nicholas is not a character from the Bible, yet he is often associated with Christmas. Nicholas was a bishop in the fourth century. According to Catholic history he is the patron saint of children and sailors.

Noël is the French way of saying ‘Christmas’.

Peace on Earth was what the host of angels said after the birth of Jesus. It is often a saying people say to one another during Christmas (Luke 2:14), yet Jesus came to bring peace to the earth. He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6; cf. 52:7; 53:5; Micah 5:5; Luke 1:79; John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14,17).

Salvation is what Jesus came to offer to the people of the earth. He was the Savior who came to save mankind from impending judgment due to their sin. Mary sang about it (Luke 1:46-47). Joseph was told about it (Matthew 1:21). The shepherds outside Bethlehem were told about it (Luke 2:11).

Tidings. This is an old English word for ‘news’ or ‘information’. When Jesus came there was an announcement and bearer of glad tidings or good news (Luke 1:19; 2:10). Indeed, it was the greatest news on earth and still is.


This list was birthed out of a desire to help my children understand unfamiliar words within the Christmas story. Feel free to use or add to the definitions.