2023 Word of the Year – Linger

2023 Word of the Year – Linger

Back when I first started doing a Word of the Year, it was something I would first pray about and then just … wait for. I’d wait for something to jump out at me, either in my Bible reading, in church, in a song, in a conversation, or whatever. Some years, I’d pray but nothing would jump out. Some years, the word I received ended up being a little scarily prophetic, like when I was given “Overcome” and then a few months later my sister was diagnosed with cancer–which she totally beat.

In more recent years, I’ve been proactive, making lists and evaluating them and choosing my word through deliberation and prayer. That gave me “intentional” in 2021 (still one of my favorites!) and then “devotion” in 2022. As I began to ponder and pray about what I should choose for 2023, I expected to have to make a list, do that thinking and praying over it, see what stuck.

So I hopped in the shower one morning with that in mind, said a prayer that God would lead me to the right word, let my mind go over some of the themes in life and faith that had been popping up for me, and BAM! It hit me. My word. And not only did the word itself hit me, my mind was immediately flooded with what it meant, how it would and should play out, all that it held wrapped up in its six little letters.

Linger.

That might sound like a strange word to choose, right? But hear me out, LOL.

I have never been the most patient person in the world. I’m goal-oriented. One of those people who like to over-achieve and get assignments done early. I always did the extra credit in school. I turned my first contracted manuscript a full month ahead of deadline. When someone says, “This takes an hour,” my first thought is always, “Bet I can streamline and get it down to 45 minutes.”

In some things in life, this is a very handy personality trait. I work well with and under deadlines, I’m self-motivated, and that means I can live the author life very well. But…

But. It isn’t exactly the best way to go about things like faith, relationships, and spiritual growth.

Linger.

I remember when I was a kid, it drove me NUTS that my parents would say it was time to go–from a friend or family member’s house, after a church function, whatever–and then they’d stand there at the door chatting for another half hour. Impatient Me sometimes resented that they’d called me away from my friends just to linger with theirs…or I was tired and ready to go to bed…or I just didn’t care about what they were talking about. I am 100% guilty of being that kid who would tug on her parents’ hands, trying to physically pull them out the door.

My parents knew the value of lingering–of spending time with the people and things that matter. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning–to greater or lesser success–all my life.

Linger.

As an adult, when it’s me having dinner with friends or family, certain situations will inspire me to linger. When it’s friends I haven’t seen enough of…when the rest of my schedule has been cleared…when I know that whatever waits at home is less important than this time invested. When that’s the case, I can and do linger. There are still many times, though, that there’s something pressing at home, tugging on me. Responsibilities grabbing hold of my hand and trying to pull me out the door. Sometimes they are totally legitimate.

But sometimes, I should ignore them.

Linger.

This last year, I did the Bible in a Year, which I’m totally glad I did. It got me out of my too-short-reading rut and gave me assignments–I love assignments! I could feel like I accomplished something at the start of every day. But as I’ve drawn near to the end of the program, I realize that while it served its purpose, it also had a drawback–it didn’t leave me time to really dwell in a text. To contemplate. To dig deep. It didn’t give me time to linger over the Word, and while I certainly could have taken that time, I was always also eager to move on to my morning prayer too. I’ve been spending about an hour each morning with God in one form or another, and I love that…but this year, I want more of that time to be that lingering contemplation and less of it to be charging through the set number of verses.

In the year to come, I intend to practice the Lectio Divina method, where one reads the same passage several times, contemplating it and seeing what jumps out at you. You examine each word and phrase, ask questions about context and meaning, and really spend time with a short passage instead of charging ahead to get through it.

Linger.

As a work-from-home mom who homeschools, our whole family occupies the same space 24/7. I’ve had to learn how to work with the kids around. But my daughter’s a senior this year. I’m so, so aware of how she won’t be here next year for many of our annual traditions, if she’s away at college. It makes me realize that though we each need to do our work, we also need to treasure that time together, all those moments.

Linger.

I need to linger with the Lord and those I love. I need to linger in the things that matter. That’s what this year’s word comes down to for me. I’ve been intentional, I’ve examined my own devotion. Now it’s time to dive deep into what matters most and stay there for a while.

Have you chosen a Word of the Year for 2023? If you’re uncertain about why people even do this or need some idea, read my article on “How to Choose an Intentional Word of the Year” for explanations and ideas.

2022 Word of the Year Reflection – Devotion

2022 Word of the Year Reflection – Devotion

As December, and hence 2022, draw to a close, it’s that time when I pause to reflect upon the twelve months that have just passed, especially in light of my Word of the Year. In January of 2022, I chose the word “Devotion” to guide me into the year to come.

As I debated what word to choose and why, “Devotion” came to mind because it would help me focus on what I truly wanted to be devoted to…and then actually spend my time on those important things, rather than pushing them to the margins in the face of the daily grind.

My “devoted to” list included:

  • God
  • My family
  • My call to write
  • Learning

But all too often, those things weren’t what was getting my time. Instead, most of my hours and days and weeks were spent doing the things that may have been good but weren’t my passion, weren’t my top-of-the-list. I wanted to refocus for 2022, free up some time for those Most Important Things, and truly devote myself to my faith and family and calling.

With that in mind, the big thing I did was take control of my design calendar and say “one cover design a week.” My “rule” before had been 2, but it frequently turned into 4 or 5, plus typesetting jobs, plus WhiteFire work, plus… everything. It was too much, and I was not only left without solid writing time, I was also left pushing things like my morning prayer and Scripture reading into five minutes. Not good! Hence that one-a-week cover design rule that I instituted. The result is that I’m already scheduling designs five months in advance, so I’ve had to encourage my clients to think ahead. And there have been times when I’ve gotten behind thanks to a writing deadline, so a few extra pile up. But in general, that “rule” has helped me SO much! I’m glad I instituted it and intend to carry it forward and be even more strict about it in 2023. (My November and December somehow ended up with an average of 4 projects a week again, because I just didn’t have the gumption to tell people no, LOL.)

One way I gave myself the space to do this was to start my direct-support group, Patrons & Peers. This is a Patreon-style group, but run directly through my website here. My supporters can choose their subscription level, and in exchange for that support, they receive perks and–far more important!–are invited into the P&P community. When I started the group, I had this dream that it wouldn’t just be about supporting me, but about supporting each other. That it would be faith-filled believers acting like the Church should, loving and encouraging each other. AND IT IS. I am still so floored by this, and deserve none of the credit. It’s the ladies themselves who have made this possible by being open and loving and filled with the Spirit of God. This group has not only blessed me financially throughout the year, enabling me to whittle down that design calendar, they’ve blessed me emotionally, spiritually, and mentally as well. I love reading the group emails and listening to/watching the Marco Polo videos. We’ve become friends. Sisters. A true community. We sign off with “love you guys!” and pray for each other daily. These ladies have helped me pursue my true devotion and have inspired me daily to walk worthy of the call of Christ. Thank you, “Roseanna Girls!”

In 2022 I also decided to do a Bible in a Year program, to force myself out of that 5-minutes-of-reading slump I’d been in. I chose to do the ESV Catholic Version and have really enjoyed reading all the Deuterocanonical texts as well as the familiar Scriptures in a new-to-me translation!

My husband and I have also been doing the Liturgy of the Hours together in the morning, listening to the Invitatory and Morning Prayer together in the Divine Office app on my phone. I love that these songs and recitations have grounded my heart in the Psalms–as I go throughout the day, I often find myself singing, “Come now, let us bow down to worship, bending the knee to the Lord our Maker! For He is our God, and we are His people, the flock He shepherds. Come, let us sing joyful songs to the Lord!” I’ve memorized several Psalms this way through the year without even meaning to! I try to listen to the Office of Reading too, when I can, which in addition to prayer and psalms and Scripture also has a short excerpt from a historical sermon. I love getting little bites of the Church Fathers this way!

Now…writing. This is “me.” This is what I do. I wanted to free up more time for it, and boy, have I done that! While I’m still not writing every day or anything, I have successfully completed 4 full-length manuscripts this year, plus edits and rewrites, and am about halfway done a 5th. I’ll have 4-5 due next year as well, so I’m so happy to have established a rhythm and routine that allows for more writing time. I still am scheduling most of it in big blocks (and don’t always remember to mark that week off on my design calendar, hence those occasional back-ups), but that’s what’s working for me in this season, so I’ll just run with it. =)

And now, study. I wanted to give the proper attention to both research for my novels and my own spiritual formation, and while I still have room for improvement here, I feel like I’ve made real strides! I did a lot of research for both Yesterday’s Tides and my new Imposters series for Bethany House, and I read a truly amazing book on Mary Magdalene in preparation for writing At His Feet for the Extraordinary Women of the Bible series for Guideposts. My husband and I have also both read several books together that we then discuss as we take walks, and that’s been a real joy too! And in the autumn, one of my P&P ladies, Laura Heagy, started sharing some Spiritual Formation exercises with us each month, which have also helped me focus time and some reading on this important goal.

Was 2022 a perfect year? Of course not. I had plenty of moments of frustration, of overwhelm, of exhaustion. There were days when the words wouldn’t come or when the headaches were too bad, and I got seriously derailed for a week or two by learning that I have a benign tumor on the pituitary gland in my brain. But for all that, as I look back on where I was a year ago and where I wanted to be this year, I know that I have, in fact, chased after that devotion with my whole heart. I had moments of failure, of course, but I picked myself back up and started again. Redevoted myself. Focused again on God and what He’s given me, what He’s placed in my charge, what He’s called me to.

And I already know how I’ll continue that work in 2023–my Word of the Year came to my mind and heart very quickly, as soon as I started thinking about it, and I’m looking forward to telling you more about how, in 2023, I intend to Linger with God, with His word, with His people, and with those things and people who make me who I want to be. Come back on January 1 to read my Word of the Year post!

Holiday History Recollection #5

Holiday History Recollection #5

Welcome back to my series on Holiday History Recollections, where I’m looking at some of the posts I’ve done over the years on the history of holiday words and traditions!

Holiday History Recollection #1
Holiday History Recollection #2
Holiday History Recollection #3
Holiday History Recollection #4

Since today is not only Boxing Day but also the Second Day of Christmas, I figured today is the PERFECT day to take a look at both the Twelve Days and Boxing Day traditions!

So…what’s Boxing Day? Though our friends across the pond don’t even have to ask, we Americans may scratch our heads a bit at this one. We know that it is, just not necessarily what it is.

From reading, I knew that Boxing Day was the day after Christmas, which, historically speaking, servants had off to celebrate Christmas with their families. But obviously there’s more history to it than that, right?

Of course there is! 😉

The phrase itself originated in 1809, but it comes from a practice that dates back to the Middle Ages. The day after Christmas was, you see, traditionally the day when the alms-box located at each church was opened up and distributed among the poor. It also then became the day when servants, service people like postal employees or errand boys, etc, could expect a gift from their employers, usually given in a small box. And then, of course, it was also the day servants could then leave the masters to fend for themselves and go enjoy the contents of those gift boxes with their own families or friends. The boxes usually included gifts of money and leftover food from the Christmas feast.

These days, Boxing Day has become a shopping holiday, filled with sales much like America’s Black Friday deals. It’s when people can expect the best sales of the year. There are certain areas in Canada where this has been banned and retailers are to remain closed on Dec 26, to provide the holiday to their employees. Very traditional, that. 😉 In those regions, Dec 27 gets the good sales instead.

These days, all the hype is leading up to Christmas. So much so that on December 26, it feels kinda like a letdown, right? The all-Christmas-music-all-the-time radio stations are back to normal programming. Some people start taking down decorations. By the time New Year’s rolls around, people look at you like you’re crazy if you’re still wishing them a Merry Christmas.

I do it anyway. Why? Because the Christmas season traditionally begins on December 25. It doesn’t end there.

The Christmas season is about much more than a day: it is about celebrating the miracle and life of Christ. Just as we have the Advent Calendar to count up to Christmas Day, so we also have the Twelve Days, which follow Christmas and lead up to the Epiphany on January 6.

Surviving mainly in Europe today, the Epiphany is a long-celebrated day that remembers the arrival of the Magi. Literally “Manifestation,” the Epiphany is also the day taken to commemorate the second birth or baptism of Christ and the importance of God being made man through that act. In many parts of the world, the Epiphany is just as celebrated (or even more so) as Christmas…and in the days when sweets and citrus fruits were primary decorations, children especially loved this day, because it’s when they got to eat those candies and fruit. 😉

The Twelve Days covers all sorts of important moments in Christianity, like Christ being named 8 days after birth. The importance of the Christmas star. The journey the magi took. The baptism of Christ, as already mentioned. And so much more.

Of course, many of us know about the Twelve Days solely because of THAT SONG. You know the one. Love it? Hate it? Tradition states that the song was created during the early years of the Reformation in England, used as an encoded teaching tool for Catholics, with each day or item representing something about their faith, so that they could teach it to their children without bringing the Protestant authorities down on their heads (this being the age when being Catholic would get you sent to the gallowed in England, quite literally). Is there truth to this theory on the song? Historians disagree. But while the real story behind it is murky, the song itself has certainly persisted!

In our family, we like to remember the full Twelve Days and never take decorations down until the traditional day, January 6. And there’s something really special about stretching it out like that. About making Christmas the start of something, instead of the end. Because really, Christ’s arrival was just the beginning. And this helps us to remember that.

How to Choose an Intentional Word of the Year

How to Choose an Intentional Word of the Year

For well over a decade, I’ve been doing the “word of the year” thing. In 2021, my word was “Intentional,” and a funny thing happened…I was getting a lot of hits on that post. But not (sadly) because people were so interested in my word. No…people were interested in CHOOSING an intentional word for the year.

For good reason! Choosing an intentional word of the year is not only fun but inspiring and aspirational. So as this old year winds down and a new one is on the horizon, I decided it may be helpful to write a bit about the practice, not just about my word in particular.

What Is an Intentional Word of the Year?

Some people make New Years Resolutions, and that’s great. I’ve done those many years, because there’s something about writing out my goals and decisions that makes me want to stick to them more than a vague “Maybe I’ll…” mental goal. But resolutions aren’t for everyone, and they’re not for every year. Still, as the calendar turns over, many of us want to recognize that this new year is something NEW. We want to set down in writing something to guide us through the twelve months to come. So if we’re not doing resolutions…what do we do?

An alternative- to New Years Resolutions is a Word of the Year. It can also just be an addition to New Years Resolutions, if you want both a set of goals and something to govern them.

In general, an intentional Word of the Year is when you choose a word that is meant to be your inspiration, aspiration, hope, goal, or motivation that will underscore EVERYTHING for you in the year to come. Maybe it’s meant to remind you of your faith or God’s promises. Maybe it’s meant to help you focus. Maybe it’s meant to reassure you throughout the year or inspire you to something greater.

Whatever your particular need or purpose, choosing a Word can help you make decisions, keep your eyes on the proverbial prize, and motivate you to keep going through challenging times.

How to Choose an Intentional Word of the Year?

But once you’ve decided to choose a word of the year, that leaves an important question: HOW?

When I first started out, I had in my head that this word had to be something from God, not something from my own mind. I would start praying about it a week or more in advance, and wait for a word to just hit me.

Sometimes it did—in a song, in my Bible reading, in my prayer, in my daily conversations.

But sometimes…it didn’t. God being silent? My heart not listening? I have no idea. But I did notice that the years I had a Word to guide me were years when I made better choices, when I clung more tightly to His promises, when I kept my focus more on His Kingdom and less on my own little (ahem) empire.

I wanted to have a word. I wanted to have a word every year. And finally I realized that I didn’t have to wait for one to “come to me.”

I could choose a word.

Okay, so I didn’t realize this from my own brilliance, actually. My best friend/critique partner, Stephanie Morrill always chooses a word deliberately. I eventually decided she had the right idea, and instead of waiting for a bolt from the blue, I started being deliberate about my choice.

There are, of course, still many options for how to pick.

Make a List

The first and most obvious way is to simply start making a list. Focus on where you feel you need to work or focus in the year to come, and then jot down different words that fall into that space. For instance, the year I chose “intentional” for my word, I’d started with a list of things I knew needed my attention like: rest, organization, time management, focus on prayer, time with my family.

Once I had a list of things that I wanted to pay attention to, I looked for the through-line and words that could capture that. “Intentional” was a fairly obvious choice for me that time. It was the one word that would govern all those things—I had to be intentional about everything from taking enough breaks to making smart use of my space.

Chances are good that your list from year to year will have a lot of the same themes, but hopefully you’ll be ever growing, so some items will fall off and new ones will come. You’ll also be exiting and entering new seasons of life, and as you do, you’ll find that your list needs to reflect that. Maybe you’ll be balancing a new baby or kids going to school or kids leaving the house; maybe it’ll be sorting through belongings before a big downsize or choosing a new career or finally working on that dream project you’ve been thinking about for years.

Whatever season you’re in, embrace that and make your list—and hence your word choice—reflect it.

Do an Internet Search

Still coming up blank or don’t feel like making a list? You’re in luck! Plenty of people have already done it for you, and you can always do an internet search for lists of good “word of the year” choices and pick one that resonates.

You can search for “word of the year generator” yourself and see if you find a site that aligns with your goals and worldview. Here are a few that turned up in my search.

Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year Generator

Mama Smiles Joyful Parenting Word of the Year Generator

Inspire Kinney Chaos Word of the Year Generator

Christian Planner’s Word Generator

Dayspring Word of the Year Quiz

Pray and Listen

If you’re a person of faith, you certainly can use the method I used for years, which was to pray for inspiration for a word and then seek it through that prayer, Scripture reading, church attendance, etc.

As different words resonate with you, write them down and sit with them for a while to see if they really capture something you need to focus on in the year to come. Sometimes a word will hit you so strongly that you just KNOW, and other times you may not be certain at first, so it becomes a matter of which ones sticks with you for a few days.

Once I’ve selected a Word…Then What?

So you’ve figured out which word you want to choose for the year to come. Great! But…now what do you do with it?

I’m a writer, so my first instinct is always WRITE IT DOWN. My bias aside, I think it’s a good instinct. Writing it down—whether on a sticky note, in a notebook, on an index card, in a word processing doc, or in a social media or blog post, will help cement it in your mind and heart and also give you a place to go back to on that day nine months from now when you can’t even remember why you went into the kitchen, much less what word you chose last December or January.

So write it down somewhere and put it in a place where you can’t lose it—if you chose a physical place to write it, tape it somewhere. If digital, bookmark it or put a digital pin in it.

If you’re artsy, considering making a pretty image with the word, which you can display. Or see if you can find a fun notebook or journal with the word on the front, to inspire you throughout the year. If you enjoy journaling or other writing, write a paragraph or a page or a post about why the word resonated and how you hope it will guide you in the year to come.

The idea here is to keep the word present. You want to contemplate this word frequently throughout the year, so either put it somewhere that you’ll see it regularly or consider setting yourself reminders to revisit that will pop up on your calendar. If you’ve written about it, schedule a few times throughout the year to reread what you’ve written—at the end or beginning of a quarter or season is a great time.

Some Intentional Word of the Year Suggestions

Don’t feel like visiting a generator or quiz tool and just want to browse a list? That can be a great way to see quickly what resonates with you or doesn’t! Here’s a list of some suggestions for your intentional Word of the Year:

A-C

Abundance
Accept
Achieve
Act
Action
Adapt
Adoration
Adore
Advance
Adventure
Alive
Allow
Amazing
Ambition
Anchor
Appreciate
Articulate
Ascend
Ask
Attention
Authentic
Available
Awake
Awaken
Aware
Awe
Awesome
Balance
Balanced
Be
Beautiful
Beauty
Begin
Behold
Believe
Belong
Belonging
Beloved
Best
Better
Big
Blessed
Bliss
Bloom
Bold
Boss
Bounce
Boundaries
Bounty
Brave
Breathe
Bridge
Bright
Build
Calm
Capture
Care
Caring
Celebrate
Center
Challenge
Change
Charism
Charisma
Chase
Clear
Comfort
Commit
Committed
Communicate
Compation
Complete
Completion
Compose
Compromise
Confidence
Connect
Connection
Conscious
Consistency
Consistent
Contribute
Courage
Create
Creation
Creative
Creativity
Cultivate

D-G

Dare
Daring
Daughter
Dauntless
Declutter
Decrease
Dedicate
Dedication
Deliberate
Deliberation
Delight
Determination
Determine
Determined
Devote
Devotion
Diligence
Direction
Disciple
Discipleship
Discipline
Dream
Ease
Educate
Education
Elevate
Elevation
Embody
Embrace
Emerge
Encourage
Energy
Enjoy
Enlighten
Enough
Enthusiasm
Environment
Escalate
Examine
Excite
Excitement
Expand
Expansion
Experience
Exploration
Explore
Faith
Faithful
Family
Fast
Favorite
Fearless
Finish
Fitness
Flourish
Flow
Fly
Focus
Forgive
Forgiveness
Forward
Foster
Foundation
Free
Freedom
Friend
Fulfil
Fulfilling
Fun
Future
Generosity
Generous
Gentle
Gently
Give
Glorious
Glow
Go
Goals
Grace
Gracious
Gratitude
Grounded
Grow
Growth

H-N

Habit
Happy
Harmony
Heal
Health
Heart
Here
Higher
Home
Honest
Honesty
Hope
Humble
Humility
Hustle
Imagination
Imagine
Immerse
Improve
Improvement
Increase
Indulge
Inspiration
Inspire
Integrity
Intent
Intention
Intentional
Intimacy
Intimate
Intuition
Journey
Joy
Jump
Kind
Kindness
Laugh
Laughter
Lead
Learn
Less
Life
Light
Linger
Listen
Live
Love
Magic
Magical
Manifest
Meditate
Memories
Mindful
Mindfulness
Moment
More
Mother
Move
Nature
New
No
Now
Nurture

O-R

Observe
Open
Organize
Overcome
Pardon
Partner
Passion
Patience
Pause
Peace
Permission
Persevere
Persist
Perspective
Play
Positivity
Possibilities
Possibility
Possible
Power
Powerful
Practice
Praise
Pray
Presence
Present
Prime
Probable
Progress
Progression
Prosper
Purpose
Question
Quiet
Re-brand
Receive
Reclaim
Reflect
Relax
Release
Renew
Renewal
Reset
Resolve
Respect
Rest
Retreat
Revive
Rise
Rise
Romance

S-U

Satisfaction
Savvy
Seek
Self
Self-care
Self-love
Serene
Serenity
Share
Shift
Shine
Siblings
Simple
Simplify
Sister
Sisterhood
Slow
Small
Smile
Son
Soul
Soulful
Spark
Sparkle
Speak
Spirit
Still
Strength
Strengthen
Stretch
Strive
Success
Support
Surrender
Surroundings
Survive
Teach
Think
This
Thoughtfulness
Thrive
Today
Touch
Tranquil
Tranquility
Transform
Transformation
Travel
Treasure
Trust
Truth
Try
Undaunted
Understand
Unique
Unlimited
Unstoppable

V-Z

Value
Vision
Visionary
Vulnerability
Vulnerable
Wake
Wander
Wellness
Whole
Wholehearted
Why
Wild
Win
Winning
Wisdom
Wise
Wish
Wonder
Work
Worship
Worth
Wow
Yes
Zeal
Zealous
Zest

Some of My Word of the Year Choices

If you’re looking for some context of how and why people choose the words they do and perhaps how they play out through the year, you’re welcome to browse my previous years’ choices, and then the end-of-year reflections upon them.

2022 Word of the Year: Devotion
Reflection of 2022 Word of the Year: Devotion

2021 Word of the Year: Intentional
Reflection on 2021 Word of the Year: Intentional

2019 Word of the Year: Promise
Reflection on 2019 Word of the Year: Promise

2017 Word of the Year: Overcome

2016 Word of the Year: Mine

 

Holiday History Recollection #4

Holiday History Recollection #4

Welcome back to my series on Holiday History Recollections, where I’m looking at some of the posts I’ve done over the years on the history of holiday words and traditions!

Holiday History Recollection #1
Holiday History Recollection #2
Holiday History Recollection #3

Today, let’s take a look at some words you’re likely to encounter in this holiday season: jolly, X-mas, noel, and “merry” vs. “happy” in the wishes for the season.

Well here’s one that made me smile. I have to say that most times when I hear the word jolly, I think of Christmas. Jolly old St. Nick, jolly elves, etc.

And apparently, that’s a good thing to think of! Though the word comes most immediately from Old French jolif, meaning “festive, amorous, pretty,” there are also suggestions that it’s a loan-word from Germanic tongues, akin to Old Norse jol…which is the word for their winter feast, i.e. Yule…which is Christmas! How fun is that? So it’s totally appropriate to think of Christmas when you hear the word jolly, because it’s related!

Have a holly, jolly Christmas!

I remember, as a child, writing stories and assignments for school around this time of year and occasionally using the abbreviation “X-mas” for Christmas. I remember teachers telling me not to use abbreviations in my assignments, and I remember someone else (can’t recall who) telling me not to use that one for Christmas because it just wasn’t right to take Christ out of Christmas (or something to that effect) and replace it with an X.

So in my middling years, I refused to use it, thinking it somehow mean to Jesus…then later I actually learned where it came from.

Pretty simple, really. The Greek word for Christ is Χριστός. You might notice that first letter. Our X, though it’s the Greek “chi.” No paganism here, no dark, dastardly scheming to remove Jesus from his birthday. Scholars started this as a form of shorthand. The first English use dates to 1755 in Bernard Ward’s History of St. Edmund’s College, Old Hall. Woodward, Byron, and Coleridge, to name a few, have used it too. And interestingly, similar abbreviations date way back. As early as 1100, the form “Xp̄es mæsse” for Christmas was used in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

So. It’s still an abbreviation and oughtn’t be used in formal writing any more than w/ or b/c, but it’s also perfectly legitimate as what it is. Always nice to discover something like that. =) And I hope as everyone gears up, they have a truly wonderful one!

When I was asking you all for suggestions of holiday words or traditions you’d like to learn more about, someone suggested “Noel.” I knew this was the French word for Christmas, but I admit that’s where my knowledge ended, so it was fun to learn more!

Noel does indeed come to English through the French, and the French word means “Christmas.” But more literally, noel is from the Latin nael, a variation of natalis, which means “birth day.” In Church Latin, this word was used exclusively for the birth of Christ.

We can see other words with this same root in natal and nativity. I knew where those two came from, but it didn’t occur to me that noel was from a variation of the same word. So there we have it!

Have you ever wondered why in America we say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Christmas,” when “happy” is the wish of choice for other holidays?

Experts don’t completely agree on the why of this, but they have some good ideas.

First of all, the history. We can date the term “Merry Christmas” back at least as far as 1534, thanks to a surviving letter from bishop John Fisher, in which he wishes a “Merry Christmas” to Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. We don’t know if it was the most popular wish at the time, but we do know that it solidified in popularity during the Victorian era, largely thanks to Dickens.

He uses the phrase in A Christmas Carol no fewer than 21 times! And he also quotes from the carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” in there…and did something rather funny in said quote. Apparently the original term was “God rest you merry.” As in, “God keep you in good health and happiness.” This, then, was simply something wished to the gentlemen. But Dickens changed the placement of the comma, turning them into “merry gentlemen.” A change that would have amused his readers at the time, no doubt. And certainly contributed to the idea of Christmas being a day for being merry.

It’s also worth noting that the very first Christmas card said, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you” on it.

The idea of “making merry” (versus simply “being happy”) also plays a role in the popularity of the phrase. For hundreds of years, Christmas was the time of the greatest celebration, marked by feasts and parties and games and whatever fun could be scraped together. So this was what people began to wish for each other–not just happiness, but “a good time.”

Some, however, thought it a bit raucous for their tastes…most notably, England’s royal family. “Making merry” was too low-brow and distasteful, so they began wishing everyone a “Happy Christmas” instead, and of course, others in England soon followed suit. “Happy Christmas” is now more common in England across the board…though I daresay there’s still plenty of merry-making going on.

The Babe, the Son of Mary

The Babe, the Son of Mary

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What child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

~ from “What Child Is This?”

Mary.

Have you given much thought over the years to the mother of Jesus? I’ll be honest—I hadn’t. Oh, I’d give her a nod at Christmas, but it wasn’t until this last year, and especially as I was writing a book about Mary Magdalene that also had “Imma Mary” in it (as I called her in the book to keep all the Marys straight) that I really paused to consider this woman.

Mary. She alone, out of all the women in Israel, out of all the women in history, was chosen to bear Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mary was unlike any other person ever to live because of that. Mary was more than special—Mary was blessed, full of grace, and entrusted with the very life of the Son of God.

Why am I thinking enough about Mary now to want to write about her? Well, as Advent approached this year, I was so excited for it…but then life and exhaustion kicked in, and by the time the season actually began, I was…tired. Worn out. Some of my joy had leaked out. And as I prayed about how to reclaim it, this was what I sensed God whispering in my heart:

Consider the joy of Mary.

I thought I’d better start with identifying who she really was. We know little about her from Scripture alone, other than that she was of the lineage of David, from a humble family, engaged to a man named Joseph, and a virgin who had never known a man.

We know that when the angel said, “This is what God will do,” Mary said the most important words a human could ever say: “Yes. Let it be to me according to His will.” She put herself willingly into the hands of God…and then God came and dwelled inside her in a way never done before or since.

One of the earliest names for Mary is Theotokos—literally, “God bearer.” If we believe Christ was not only fully man but also fully God, then we must believe that divine nature existed alongside the human nature from the moment of conception. That means that God—God Himself, God the Son—consented to being wrapped in human flesh and relying on a woman for His nourishment, protection, love, and every other need. That means that a mortal woman gave birth to immortal God in the form of Jesus. That’s pretty amazing, right? We give great respect to the apostles and disciples…but do we give enough respect to this woman?

Mary. Imagine, for a moment, being Mary. Any of you who are mothers know well how it feels to be pregnant. I remember the awe of feeling that life—separate from mine and yet such a part of me—stirring in my abdomen. I remember pressing a hand to that tiny little bump and thinking, Move again, little one! I remember how, by the end of my terms, those movements had become not only VERY noticeable, but familiar. This is my baby, I would think. I knew what time of day they moved around the most. I knew when they were stretching out and when they were curled up. I knew them, and I loved them, and despite the physical discomfort there at the end, I loved cradling them in my womb. I knew profound, unspeakable joy at the very thought of them.

And my babies are “just” regular babies. Very much human. Part me, part David. As I pressed a hand to where an elbow or foot or hand was tracking against my abdomen, I didn’t have to wonder where they had come from or how, how God had done this thing. I didn’t have to wonder what “son of God” really meant.

Can you imagine Mary’s joy, Mary’s wonder? Show me just a sliver of it—that’s my prayer this Advent. Show me just a sliver of the wonder and joy Mary must have felt at holding the sacred body of Christ within her own. At holding God in her flesh. At having the salvation of the world in the ark of her womb.

I remember wondering, as labor loomed on the horizon with both of my pregnancies, if I would feel empty after giving birth. For so many months, that little unseen child dominated my thoughts and my concerns and my very body. Daily, everyday activities were dictated by that little life, from what I could eat to what exercise I could do to what clothes I could wear. For those months, me was us. My thoughts had to bend to consider not just my physicality, but our physicality. When they were born, would that change? Would I press a hand to my stomach and think, Where are you, precious one?

But no—because once they were born, I could hold them in my arms instead. I could kiss their precious face and count their precious toes. I could watch their rosebud lips purse and move. I could see their eyes seeing me and know that finally, somehow, I could know them more because they were no longer inside me. By becoming their own, full self, by their bodies becoming only their own and no longer physically connected to mine, I could know them better. Isn’t that strange? Because now my arms and eyes and nose and mouth and ears, my fingertips and cheek and breasts, could sense them. We are creatures of sensation, of body, of form. Those senses God has given us are how we know.

Imagine Mary. Imagine her giving birth to this perfect little baby, who truly was perfect. Knowing that those tiny fingers that wrapped around hers were the same ones that had formed the universe. Imagine holding that baby in her arms and wondering how, HOW God had made Himself so small. How the all-powerful one could be so helpless…how she had been chosen to hold Him, to protect Him, to love Him. Joy, awe, wonder…those words are just the beginning. For the months she carried Him, Mary knew God like no one else in history ever had or would. But it was when He was born, as He grew, as He fulfilled His destiny, that she knew Him even more.

Because really, what does it mean for God to take on flesh? He is Spirit, He is Love, He is Truth…He is all these ideas and metaphysical forms. He is a force that cannot possibly be confined to bone and sinew and blood and muscle and nerves and skin.

Yet He was. Because He chose to be. He chose to wrap His divine nature in a couple cells and be there as they multiplied, as they grew within a woman. He chose to put Himself in a position where His life was sustained by an umbilical cord, His body dependent on the life of another. This woman, full of grace, called Mary. He chose to let His creation help create His physical body…a body that He would then offer up for us. A body which He would invite us to become part of through Holy Communion. A body that He didn’t just cast off after death, but which He took up again, taking it with Him into Heaven.

A body that we now are. We are the body of Christ on earth, while His physical body reigns in heaven. We are the body, because He gave it to us, gives it to us still, every time we come together and break the bread and drink the cup. We are the body.

The same body that was formed in Mary’s womb. So what does that make her to us? Our mother. And when she held that infant Jesus, she cradled all of us. Isn’t that a beautiful thought? That by being co-heirs with Christ, by sharing in Him as He invites us to do, we not only gain a Father in heaven, but a mother too? Yes, she was a human mother. “Just like us.” And that’s what should make us love and honor her the most. Like all the disciples and apostles, she was chosen by God Himself to be part of the foundation of the Church, part of the salvation story. A story we get to participate in now.

One of the most mind-bending things about a God of eternity is how He is both inside and outside of time. Jesus came at a specific point in history; Jesus will come again at a specific time in the future; but Jesus comes now, every day, every year. He comes into our hearts and into our lives. We remember Him in this season so that it stays ever new, ever real to us. God has become flesh.

This is Christ, Christ the king. Master of the universe and man of mortal flesh.

Did Mary know, as she held her baby, what His life would look like? Not specifically. Of course not. Do you know what your baby will do as you hold that newly born being in your arms? She knew He was the Son of God. She knew He had come for the salvation of the world. But what would that mean? What would it look like? She couldn’t know, because it had never happened before in all of human history. She would have to wait and see. She would have to ponder. She would have to do her best to love Him in a way worthy of Him.

Haste, haste to bring Him laud—to offer Him every gift you have, because He is worthy of it all. This babe. This God. This creator who became part of His creation.

Son of God…son of Mary.