Besinnliche Weihnachten. Translate! Or not!

10.12.2013 | 5 Kommentare

Heute ein Beitrag von James Randle:

Hier sein Profil (bitte nach unten scrollen!)

A little contemplation on festive ‘Besinnlichkeit’

At this time of year, many German companies see fit to wish their customers, business partners and anyone else besides a “besinnliches Weihnachtsfest” or a “besinnliche Weihnachtszeit”.

Was sagen die Online-Wörterbücher?

Everyone has their favourite online dictionaries for such an occasion. I personally find dict.cc to be relatively useful, but it’s far from perfect. In this case, a cursory glance at their dictionary entry for besinnlich yields the following results – listed in descending order of ‘importance’:

Reflective – contemplative – tranquil – pensive – thoughtful – thought-provoking

Now hang on a minute. A “pensive” Christmas”? A “thought-provoking” Christmas?

As a Brit, a “pensive” (‘gedankenvoll’ or even ‘grüblerisch’) Christmas makes me think of family tension at the dinner table, maybe because your Grandpa just burnt the turkey for the fifth year running. And “thought-provoking” (‘zum Nachdenken anregend’) is how you might describe an unusually hard-hitting Queen’s Speech.
In short, it all sounds like hard work.

So, what about the top-rated suggestions? Unfortunately, they don’t quite hit the mark either.

Worüber denkt denn das Weihnachtsfest nach??

A “reflective Christmas” or “contemplative festive period” may sound like quite a pleasant, even sophisticated thing to wish someone. But these expressions (meaning something like ‘nachdenklich’ in German) are rarely found in English – because they do not make logical sense. In both cases, it sounds as if the Christmas period itself is doing all the thinking, rather than the people. A very strange concept!

Ein kultureller Unterschied

What to do, then? You have to remember that in a Christmas card, it’s a sentiment you’re conveying. And there’s a cultural difference, too – Christmas in German culture is seen as a time to reflect on the year just gone in the company of your family, but we tend to view the festive period as a chance to celebrate, ‘eat, drink and be merry’. So in this case, it is probably better to avoid the subject of Besinnlichkeit altogether.  

Christmas – politically incorrect? 

Oh, and not all English speakers are entirely comfortable with wishing everyone a ‘Merry Christmas’ – because not everyone is Christian! So ‘Happy Holidays’ or a ‘Happy Holiday Season’ are often used as politically-correct alternatives. This is particularly true in the US, but increasingly common in the UK too.

Some nice expressions for Christmas cards on both sides of the Atlantic include:

We wish you and your family peace, health & happiness this holiday season” 
This one is quite elegant, although “peace” (‘Friede’/ ‘Ruhe’) is not a literal translation for Besinnlichkeit either.

“We wish you a very happy Holiday Season and a New Year filled with peace and prosperity.”

“One of the real joys of the Holiday Season is the opportunity to say Thank You and to wish you the very best for the New Year.”

“In the spirit of the season, we extend a heartfelt Thank You and wish you the very best in the New Year.”

Or simply:
“Merry Christmas and Warm Wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season and a very Happy New Year.”

Will any of your English-speaking contacts be offended that you didn’t wish them a reflective or thought-provoking holiday season?

Think about it!

And on that note – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all… J
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5 Kommentare

  1. Librarian

    Besinnlich is, I suppose, a bit like gemütlich. Too German to have a proper English equivalent.

    Of your suggestions, I find the third one a bit odd. "One of the real joys…"? Are there unreal joys as well? It's probably just me being particularly literal about that one.

  2. Victor Dewsbery

    Does anyone in Germany actually want their Christmas to be "besinnlich"? Some people may long for a solemn carol service or church Christmas concert, but otherwise the word feels dated – except in the sort of management-inspired greeting cards that you refer to (I've seen them, too). The last time I had to translate one, I used "peaceful", although here, too, I feel that this sentiment is mainly typical of the over-eighties generation.

  3. Cathy Lara

    Good point! You can't always translate everything.

  4. william max

    Most of us know the Old Testament account of the Hebrew sojourn in Egypt and of the apostle Paul’s journey to Athens, Greece.58 Are we also aware that India, as a part of the Persian Empire under whose rule Palestine lived, is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Esther?59 Archaeological digs have unearthed vases, carnelian beads please visit and seals that attest to the trade with India dated as far back as 2500-2200 B.C.E. An Aramais inscription from the third century B.C.E.

  5. Geraldine Blackall

    Thanks, Geraldine Blackall for crellin.de


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