Slavic Saturday

Lets put Christ back in Christmas, shall we? Christ is the reason for the season, after all! That’s why it’s called Christmas!

Whenever I hear this nonsense from American Christians, I am reminded how shallow and uninformed their view of the world is. They actually really think that English language is prescriptive of how reality works and that Christians invented solstice celebrations.

So lets today just briefly look at the Czech term Vánoce. It is not actually slavic word in origin. It comes from German word “Weihnachten”, which probably just means “holy nights”. We borrowed quite a few words from our neighbors over the centuries. The original Slavic word was possibly “god” or “gody”, which has nothing whatsoever to do with any deity, it is a word for a celebration, holiday and/or feast.

Like I mentioned, there are no written records from old Slavic cultures, but something can be ascertained from what others wrote about them, especially christians before and when they started converting Slavic pagans to Christianity around 800 A.D. From this it seems that on the night of solstice Slavs celebrated the death and rebirth of a god Dažbog (Daž – give, bog – god), who was the sun-god. The celebrations consisted of having a huge bonfire lasting from sunset to dawn and feasting (without meat foods) around it. The feasting has lasted for a few days, cookies ornated with crosses and swastikas were a part of it, as well as going around singing carols and receiving/giving gifts. Note that these were de-facto celebrations of a new year – old man Dažbog has died on the evening, and he was re-born in the morning to grow (spring), gain strength (summer) age (fall) and die again next solstice. Whilst Dažbog was alive, world was safe. But during the night he was dead the chaos and evil could enter the world – thus the bonfires to keep his strength in the world and people safe from chaos through the night.

I won’t go into details, because I do not know them – I am not an expert, just a guy who read something about these things now and then throughout his life. And even experts must rely a lot on extrapolations from linguistic and still living traditions. There might be mistakes in what I wrote and it by no mean is comprehensive. Whole books are written about it. However one thing is sure – these traditions were old, predated christianity (at least here) and many of them never died.

Similar traditions at this time of year were also held by Germanic (hence christmas trees) and Celtic (mistletoes) pagans.

Christian missionaries were fully aware that trying to eradicate such traditions is akin to pissing against a hurricane, so they co-opted them. Instead of re-birth of the sun-god, it was told Baby Jesus was born. You can keep your crosses and your feasts, but instead of holding a wake at a bonfire, go to a mass at midnight etc. etc. at bleeding nauseam.

Christ was never the “reason for the season”. The sun was.


  1. DonDueed says

    Worst line ever from an original Star Trek episode:

    Uhura: “Not the sun up in the sky… the Son of God!”

  2. says

    I always tell my kids “Christians just stole Christmas anyway, they don’t get to keep it”.
    But yeah, Muricans thinking that the English language being the world…

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Latvians just call it Winter Festival.

    The original Slavic word was possibly “god” or “gody”, which has nothing whatsoever to do with any deity, it is a word for a celebration, holiday and/or feast.

    Isn’t “god” a Slavic word meaning “year” (Croatian “godina”, Russian “год”)? Cognate, I think, with Latvian “gads”.

  4. says

    @Rob Grigjanis, yes. “god” in modern Russian means “year”. When Slavic languages diverged, different words retained different meanings.

    For example the word “god”, like I mentioned, meant holiday and feast to celebrate new year. It is possible that Czech that word shifted over the centuries to “hod” which means specificaly celebratory feast and in Russian it could have shifted to mean “year”.

    Between Czech and Russian (and Croatian) are multiple words where “g” can be replaced by “h” and the word retains similar meaning, although not always the same meaning. There are false friends. For example your mentioned Croatian “godina”. It means a “year” in Croatian. But word “hodina” in Czech means “hour”. Both stem from the word “god” whcih shifted its meaning “new year celebration”-“year”-“time”——- etc.

    Similarly for example the proto-slavic word “gord”, which meant generally fortified dwellings congregation (a town, or a big village by modern standards) has shifted in Czech to “hrad” which means specifically fortified castle, and in Russian it shifted to “го́род”, which is still general term for a city or town.

    But I am not a linguist and I forgot most of my Russien due to not using it actively, this is the limit of my knowledge with a bit of help from Google.

  5. Ice Swimmer says

    I wonder if gord is related to Germanic gård (Swedish) Garten (German) or yard and garden (English), with the meaning shifted again.

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