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The religious origins of the greeting “Merry Christmas!”

Christmas celebrations

Roman Samborskyi | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 12/23/22

The phrase that is said by millions around the world originated many centuries ago, as a recent discovery shows.

There’s something so unifying when we exclaim “Merry Christmas!” Whether we share our wishes with loved ones or strangers in the street, it’s hard not to feel a little exaltation.

When it comes to the origins of the expression, there’s been a recent discovery in the archives at Hereford Cathedral in England that might shed some light on the matter.

Up until recently it was believed that it was the imprisoned Catholic bishop John Fisher in 1534 who was behind the phrase, according to Northern Wilds.

The bishop had been imprisoned for refusing to recognize Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England. As conditions in jail were harsh, he wrote to Thomas Cromwell, the proponent to Henry VIII’s Reformation, to ask for some essentials, signing off with, “And this our Lord God send you a merry Christmas.”

Unfortunately for the bishop, he lost his head not long after, but was recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church a few centuries later. Interestingly, Cromwell, too, lost his head for daring to disagree with the tyrannical Henry VIII.

While this origin has been popular for many years, it’s only been put to question recently when another letter from another bishop was unearthed, as the BBC reports.

In 1520 — 14 years earlier than Bishop Fisher’s letter — Bishop Charles Booth of Hereford Cathedral wrote to his colleague Canon William Burghill. Booth begins the letter with: “I praye God ye may be all in good charite and mery this Crystmas.”

While the spelling is quaint by modern standards, it’s easy to recognize the “merry Christmas.” We may never know who inspired Booth to say that, or whether he came up with the expression himself, but it’s funny to see how a centuries-old phrase is still said by millions throughout the world today.

And just to pass this message on, everybody at Aleteia wishes you and your families a very Merry Christmas!

Tags:
BishopsCatholic LifestyleChristmas
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