Each year, Christmas is celebrated in over 160 countries. Each of these cultures have unique ways of expressing seasonal greetings and best wishes for the holiday. From Kenya to Ireland, these are some holiday greetings in different languages around the world.
- Hawaii: Mele Kalikimaka
A holiday greeting made famous by Bing Crosby in his 1950 song of the same name, “Mele Kalikimaka” is the phrase used to wish someone happy holidays in Hawaiian. The phrase is almost a direct translation of the common U.S. phrase “Merry Christmas,” with a few differences. Because the Hawaiian language doesn’t use the letter R, the R in “Merry” has been changed to the L in “Mele.” Additionally, the sounds made by the letters S and T in “Christmas” have been replaced by the letter K in the Hawaiian phrase due to the language’s limited consonant sounds.
- Ecuador: Feliz Navidad
Similar to the Hawaiian holiday greeting, this Spanish holiday greeting became well known in the U.S. only after the song “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano debuted in the states in 1970. Since then, it has gained popularity and is commonly used throughout the U.S. The greeting is primarily used in Spanish speaking countries such as Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil.
- Kenya: Krismasi Njema
Each one of the over 2,000 languages spoken in the African continent has its own holiday greeting. In Swahili, one of the most widespread languages in Africa, wishing someone a Merry Christmas is done with the phrase “Krismasi Njema,” which is pronounced “Kriz-mah-see en-jee-mah.”
- Ireland: Nollaig Shona Dhuit
In Ireland, where Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday of the year, the traditional Gaelic greeting is “Nollaig Shona Dhuit.” This literally means, if translated into English, “Christmas, happy, to you.” While this greeting is traditional, it is more popular in Northern Ireland, as well as in Great Britain, to use the phrase “Happy Christmas.”
- France: Joyeux Noël
While there are several different ways to wish someone happy holidays in French, saying “Joyeux Noël” is the closest equivalent to wishing someone Merry Christmas. The French word “joyeux” is an adjective meaning “merry” or “happy,” and “Noël” is the French word for Christmas. Historically, children born on Christmas Day in France were either named Noël or Noëlle, but today the names are more common, and not limited to those with birthdays falling on the holiday. Other holiday greetings in France are “meilleurs vœux” meaning “best wishes,” and “joyeuses Fêtes” which translates to “happy holidays.”
- China: Shèng dàn jié
Asia is both the most populous continent, and the continent with the greatest diversity of spoken languages. In China, Mandarin is the primary language spoken. In Mandarin, there are two separate ways to wish someone happy holidays. The first, “Shèng dàn jié,” is a generic greeting that can be translated to mean “holiday for the birth of a saint.” A greeting more specific to Christmas in Mandarin is “y? dàn jié,” which means “holiday of the birth of Jesus.”