“Glad tidings we bring to you and your thing!”

I’m sure that must have been someone else belting that out at the church carol-sing when somehow all the other people’s voices parted, Red-Sea-like, for a moment, right?

Well, look, it rhymes, OK? Unlike that “kin” version.

Just never mind. Stuff happens.

Anyway, I’m not on about the kin thing today. The more Christmassy word is tidings. Tidings of comfort and joy! “Glad tidings of great joy,” as the angel said (in the King James version).

What are tidings? They’re not tidyings, anyway. Those are what you get after all the wrapping-paper-shredding. And they’re not tithings, though those may happen around the same time as tidings is said and sung (oh, who are we kidding? the people who tithe do it year-round, while the Christmas-only crowd drop in fivers and quarters). They’re also not to do with the laundry detergent required to clean the spilled wine, cranberry sauce, eggnog, and other stuff. Although that last is at least related.

It’s Christmastide, after all, which is also Yuletide (for those who prefer the old pagan name). A great rising sea of music, food, light, decoration, and things (boughten and later forgoughten) washes over us all, leaving the seaweed and starfish of commerce when it later retreats. The coming of the new year is perfectly timed to allow us to resolve not to do all that again. For at least, um, 48 weeks. Ish. With occasional exceptions. Things happen, you know.

And time and tide happen to us all. Which doesn’t mean we all get inundated (though we do). Tide is, originally, something that happens, or a time it happens in. Woe betide our enemies! Meaning ‘Unhappiness happen to our enemies’! And all these Yuletides and so on. It’s a grand old Germanic root, the same one that gave modern German Zeit, meaning ‘time’.

And, from that, Zeitung, meaning ‘news’. That ung suffix is directly related to the ing in tiding. So tiding could be ‘happening’ but it also could be ‘news’. In fact, tidings may trace not so much to English tide+ing as to Old Norse tíðendi, ‘happenings, news of happenings’, since we may notice that happenings is not used as much to mean ‘news of happenings’. We may say “What are today’s happenings?” but we are less likely to say “Do you have any happenings?” to mean ‘…news of happenings’.

So. Tidings means ‘news’ now, except that to mean ‘news’ we usually use news, which is a plural of new and means, you know, ‘new things’. (No, it does not come from North East West South.) So for us now, tidings means ‘news, but momentous, old-style, and celebratory’. There’s a wine magazine that used to be called Wine Tidings (now it’s Quench); there are magazines of other associations, societies, or organizations, generally (it seems) with a Christian bent, with Tidings in their name.

Hey, words are known by the company they keep. And tidings keeps company with Christmas narratives. And with glad and joy and comfort. And, contextually, with all the comfort and joy of the holiday season (and/or with all the other stuff that comes with it, as the case may be for you). Which may include lots of, ah, “cheer.” Tides of it. And the kind of merry-making and singing consequent. And similar happenings.

One response to “tidings

  1. Daniel E. Trujillo Medina.

    Well, many things do happen in Christmastime, not only Yuletide or Naaman’s birthday or whatever it is. For instance, it is also the moment to gain weight while being safe from reproach. Hence, Christmas weight is the tidings of the new year… what a way to start.

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