December 25th is not a special day in the Maldives. I remember a few years back when I was in the Maldives on Christmas day, I was expecting at the very least that they would mention something in the news about the celebrations taking place in pretty much every other part of the world, including the parts most people wouldn’t expect, like the Arab world, China and other south east Asian countries. But there was nothing. It was just another ordinary day.
And that’s all good and fine, really. If Maldivians don’t feel the need to talk about the holiday, since in all honesty it doesn’t affect them at all (apart from more tourists, maybe), then so be it. However, I think in this increasingly globalised world, we should make the effort to acknowledge, if not understand, the customs of others. It is only fair if we are to expect the same from them.
This acknowledgement does not have to involve a huge amount of studying (although that would be beneficial). Rather, it can be as simple as two words:
This is the greeting that is used throughout the English speaking world. I want to answer the question “How do you say ‘Merry Christmas’ in Dhivehi?”
The short answer is that there is no way. You could say މެރީ ކްރިސްމަސް, but I’m not going to settle for that. We’re going to have to make one.
(I should point out here that this is mainly for tourists and others interested in Dhivehi. Most Maldivians wouldn’t care if there is a way to say “Merry Christmas”, and we’re not going to start hearing Maldivians saying this to each other any time soon. Also, there are those religious conservatives who firstly don’t think it’s right to use the greeting in any language, and secondly wouldn’t want anyone poisoning their own language with such a blasphemous greeting. And that is why we must do exactly that. Maldivian atheists might want to start using some of the more sacrilegious phrases I suggest at the end.)
The True Meaning of Christmas
Christmas is a shortened form of “Christ’s mass”. “Christ” comes from the Greek Χριστός (Khristos), which is a translation of the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ) (“messiah”), which means “anointed” (which weirdly enough means “rubbed with oil”).
“Mass” comes from Latin *messa which refers to a Eucharistic service (the thing with the bread and the wine), even though it literally means “dismissal”. There are some other explanations for “Mass” as well.
All things considered, “Christmas” can be translated/interpreted as “The memorial service of the one rubbed with oil”. In Dhivehi, that would be something like “ތެޔޮ އުނގުޅާފައިވާ މީހާގެ ހަނދާނީ ހިދުމަތް” (Theyo ungulhaafavaa meehaage handhaanee hidhumaiy). To refer to the whole day, it would be “ތެޔޮ އުނގުޅާފައިވާ މީހާގެ ހަނދާނީ ދުވަސް” (Theyo ungulhaafavaa meehaage handhaanee dhuvas).
In addition to that being a mouthful, it is a very awkward translation (even in English). So let’s try to make it more compact.
The Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), has the Arabic equivalent مسيح (Masīh) which is already used in Dhivehi to a certain extent. Therefore, the phrase above can be shortened to “މަސީޙުގެ ހަނދާނީ ދުވަސް” (Maseehuge handhaanee dhuvas). This does not sound awkward at all until you try put “merry” in front of it: “އުފާވެރި މާސީޙުގެ ހަނދާނީ ދުވަސް” (Ufaaveri maseehuge handhaanee dhuvas).
To solve this problem, we can get rid of ހަނދާނީ since it’s meaning (“memorial”) is implied. This leaves us with “އުފާވެރި މަސީޙުގެ ދުވަސް” (Ufaaveri maseehuge dhuvas) which literally means “Happy Messiah Day”.
Maldivians might object to the use of the word މަސީޙު since it refers to Jesus. Despite its literal meaning, it has the connotation of “saviour”, and Maldivians, being mostly Muslims would not want to think of Jesus this way.
Fear not, for there is a way around this:
Just as the phrase Eid Mubarak was borrowed from Arabic, the expression for “Merry Christmas” can also be borrowed. In this case, the Dhivehi expression would be either “އީދު މީލާދު ސަޢީދު” (Eedhu meelaadhu sa’eedhu) or “އީދު މީލާދު މަޖީދު” (Eedhu meelaadhu majeedhu).
These phrases don’t have the same connotations as the previous one since they more or less translate to “Happy birthday”. Therein lies another problem: އީދު މީލާދު can create confusion with the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, which is an occasion that is actually celebrated in the Maldives.
To get around this problem, we can look into other languages.
Christmas Around the World
In many languages, the word for Christmas has some sort of “Birthday” meaning. Consider the following:
- Albanian: Krishtlindje – Christ Birth
- Armenian: Սուրբ Ծնունդ (surb tsnund) – Holy Birth
- Chinese: 圣诞 (Shèngdàn) – Holy Birth
- Georgian: შობა (Shoba) – Birth
- Greek: Χριστούγεννα (Khristougenna) – Christ Birth
- Polish: Boże Narodzenie – God Birth
- Russian: Рождество (Rozhdestvo) – The Birth
- Vietnamese: Giáng Sinh – The Birth
- Romance language words for Christmas ultimately come from Latin natus, meaning “born”:
- French: Noël
- Italian: Natale
- Portuguese: Natal
- Spanish: Navidad
In other languages, the word for Christmas has some kind of “Festival” meaning:
- Dutch: Kerstfeest – Christ Feast
- Latvian: Ziemassvētki – Winter Feast
- Romanian: Crăciun – Winter Solstice Holiday
- These Nordic languages use words which are related to the English word Yule, which was originally a Pagan winter festival:
- Danish: Jul
- Estonian: Jõulud
- Finnish: Joulu
- Icelandic: Jól
- Norwegian: Jul
- Swedish: Jul
Translating the “Birth” or “Festival” meanings can give us a good word for Christmas day (އީސާގެފާނުގެ އީދު މީލާދު – Eesaagefaanuge eedhu meelaadhu), but that would make for an awkward greeting. That is why a word needs to be borrowed. But it wouldn’t make sense to borrow just any of these words. There is one word here which is more logical to use than any of the others, and that is the Portuguese Natal. This is because a) the word would have been used in the Maldives while the Portuguese were there in the mid 1500s, and b) the word has found its way into Sinhalese (නත්තල් – nattal), the closest related language to Dhivehi.
Borrowed into Dhivehi, the word would be ނަތާލު (Nathaalu), and “Merry Christmas” would be އުފާވެރި ނަތާލު (Ufaaveri nathaalu) – short, sweet, to the point, no confusion, and no Christ-worshipping connotation.
To say “Christmas” in Dhivehi, use one of the following:
- ތެޔޮ އުނގުޅާފައިވާ މީހާގެ ހަނދާނީ ދުވަސް (Theyo ungulhaafavaa meehaage handhaanee dhuvas)
- މަސީޙުގެ ހަނދާނީ ދުވަސް (Maseehuge handhaanee dhuvas)
- މަސީޙުގެ ދުވަސް (Maseehuge dhuvas)
- އީސާގެފާނުގެ އީދު މީލާދު (Eesaagefaanuge eedhu meelaadhu) – Probably the most appropriate
- ނަތާލު (Nathaalu) – I prefer this one
To say “Merry Christmas” in Dhivehi, use one of the following:
- އީދު މީލާދު ސައީދު (Eedhu meelaadhu sa’eedhu)
- އީދު މީލާދު މަޖީދު (Eedhu meelaadhu majeedhu)
- އުފާވެރި ނަތާލު (Ufaaveri Nathaalu)
And with that, I wish anyone who celebrates Christmas, an Ufaaveri Nathaalu!