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Posts Tagged ‘bairn’

I don’t know how “tan” developed into “toe” in the name for that plant you kiss under at Christmastide.  But in Old English, “mistletoe” was spelled mistiltan from the root “missel”, basil or the plant we know as mistletoe, and “tan”, which means twig.

Speaking of “Christmastide”, the second half of that compound word is something we usually associate with the ocean and beach.  “Tide” arrived in English, however, associated with time.  In Old English it meant a period of time, from an ancient root having to do with dividing out a portion.  By the 1300’s we were using it to refer to the water levels on the shore, from the idea of “high tide” and “low tide” being at specific times.  Old English had the word heahtid but at that time, it would have referred to a day like Christmas, “festival, high day”.

Tidings“, as in “tidings of comfort and joy“, has a long history, early diverging from the word “tide”.  For a thousand years it has meant an announcement of an event.  It comes from the Old Norse adjective tiðr, “occurring”.  Going just a bit further back, this word joins with the roots of “tide”.  

The debate rages about celebrating Christ’s birth near the solstice, when the Northern hemisphere has the shortest day of the year.  Pagan observances of this event involved the expectation for the winter to end and life to begin again.  Israel, where Jesus was born, is in the Northern Hemisphere, but that is no proof that his birthday was in that season.  Regardless of the actual event, we have placed Christmas at what is considered by astronomers to be the beginning of winter.  In Celtic nations and Scandinavia, the solstice is considered to be “midwinter”, an interpretation I prefer, agreeing with meteorologists’ definition of winter as the coldest months, normally all of December, January, and February here on this half of the globe.  Etymologists don’t know where the word “winter” comes from, but they have a couple ideas.  One is that it comes from a word for “wet”, *wed-/*wod-/*ud-which makes sense in more temperate climates.  Or it might be from the word for “white”, *wind-.  Obviously this latter is more relevant to the ice and snow of the cold season.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is a Christmas carol written by Christina Rosetti by 1872, celebrating Jesus’ humbling Himself:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

The word “bleak” meant “pale, whitish, blonde” in the Old Norse whence it arrived in English circa A.D. 1300.  Before that, the words origins meant “shining, white” or “burning”.  The same root gave us the word “black”, from the color things get after they have been burned.  By 1530 it also carried the meaning “windswept, bare”.

Such conditions alongside the green of fir trees, or the geothermal fields of Iceland are signature beauties of Scandinavia, and even the northeast coast of the United States.  There is something wonderful about life continuing amid hostility, be it from weather, self-righteous religious leaders, or power-paranoid kings like Herod.  Winters, and birthing in a stable when You’re really King of Heaven and Earth, can be harsh.  “Stark” is an Old English word stearc with an extensive definition: “stiff, strong, rigid, obstinate; stern, severe, hard; harsh, rough, violent”.  One of the things I love about places like Iceland is how the difficult climate and landscape have revealed the stern character of the people who live there.  But how do you embrace strength in hardship without losing tenderness and humility?

Jesus, the mighty Son of God, gave us an example when He was born a needy babe, pursuing with perfect resolution His cause of love, though He walked through the wilderness and built a whip to drive money-changers out of the temple, and though He submitted Himself to face a severe death by crucifixion.  “Babe” was likely imitative of infants babbling, though in most cases this became a word like baba for “peasant woman” or “mother”, as Etymonline.com cites John Audelay, c. 1426: “Crist crid in cradil, ‘Moder, Baba!‘ ”  Old English used the word “child” to refer to infants.  It seems originally to refer to the relation between the little one and his or her mother, as the “fruit of her womb”.  The significance of the mother’s role in bearing the child is also seen in surviving Scottish “bairn“, Old English bearn, from a root meaning “carry”.

Incarnation” is not an English word; it has it’s roots in Latin: caro or carnis means “flesh”, so it is litearally “being made flesh”.  This is the mysterious truth described by the Apostle Paul:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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