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January 6, 2014

Now, the Coptic Christmas or Nativity greeting is interesting! One can immediately see that it is not about merriment and jollity, as is embodied in the “Merry Christmas!” translated into Arabic as “عيد ميلاد سعيد!” (Eid milad s’aeed!, that is Happy Birthday [of Jesus]!) Some Copts have even tried to ‘Copticise’ that, and invented the term, “nofri houXristmes”.

But, Copts should not adopt foreign expressions – simply translating them literally into Coptic, particularly when original Coptic expressions exist. The issue is not simply lingual – it is more cultural. We remind here of what the German philosopher, Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744 – 1803) has once said, stating that a people has nothing dearer than the speech of its fathers, for:

In its speech resides its whole thought-domain, its tradition, history, religion and basis of life, all its heart and soul. . . . The best culture of a people cannot be expressed through the medium of a foreign language, … it thrives only by means of the nation’s inherited and inheritable dialect. With language is created the heart of the people…

We have spoken in an earlier article, The Loss of Ephnuti : how the Copts lost the name of their god, how Ephnuti (or Abnouda[1]) was replaced by the word ‘Allah’, with devastating effect, for in Ephnuti resided, for us, the meaning and character of our God, not influenced by any Islamic thought. We now have another example: the nativity greeting!

The Copts, as they greet each other with “Pikhristos avmacf! (Christ has been born!)”, emphasise that that baby who was born at Bethlehem in the fullness of time was Christ Himself, the Saviour of the World.  This carries in itself an altogether different meaning and message from simply saying, Merry Christmas. The focus too is not on our merriment but on the Baby who is the Christ! The loss of that meaning is regrettable as Copts now use the Arabic, Eid milad s’aeed. Until we can revive our language, Copts will be advised to use a translation of the Coptic form into Arabic, rather than borrow foreign expressions – and the greeting Pikhristos avmacf! Khen Omethmi Avmacf! becomes:

– المسيحُ وُلِدَ!

– بالحقيقةِ وُلِدَ!

[1] In Old Bohairic.

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