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According to the dictionary, Weihnachten is neuter, yet the "fröhliche" variant seems to be widely used. That does not happen eg with "gutes Neues Jahr", which is as expected since Jahr is neuter.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I will also throw in my opinion on this.

As you know, compound nouns (generally) adapt the gender of the last compound part.
Thus "Weihnacht" (from "Die Nacht") is female.

fröhliche Weihnacht

is correct then. The funny part comes now. "Weihnachten" (n) is actually the substantivated progressive form of "Weihnacht".

weihnachten --> (to) christmas

For reference: in the poem Knecht Ruprecht by Theodor Storm we find the following passage:

Von drauß vom Walde komm ich her;
ich muß Euch sagen es weihnachtet sehr!

When substantivating verbs, we can in general assume the neuter gender:

Das Weihnachten

correctly declined this is then:

fröhliches Weihnachten

This means, up to now, grammatically correct would be:

fröhliche Weihnacht / fröhliches Weihnachten

But Weihnachten also is an old plural form in the old German Mittelhochdeutsch, as seen in this post. Thereof we can conclude there also exists

Die Weihnachten

and that leads to the grammatical correctness of

fröhliche Weihnachten!

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Yes, though it's strange to say something that's the equivalent of "merry Christmases" or "felices Navidades", "buoni Natali" etc. –  karoshi Dec 16 '13 at 10:02
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It might be unaccostumed when comparing to the common phrases in other languages, but Christmas is usually two days and (counting Christmas Eve) two nights -- so for a term containing the Nacht, using plural isn't that strange :D –  Nevik Rehnel Dec 16 '13 at 11:42
    
That makes sense, thanks. –  karoshi Dec 16 '13 at 12:53

I'm most familiar with

Fröhliche Weihnacht!

(in parts due to this Christmas carol) and

Frohes (Weihnachts-)Fest!

However,

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

and

Fröhliches Weihnachten!

are both used as well. The former would technically be incorrect (or possibly plural), but is probably the more common one of the two - in particular, I think I've never seen the latter in print.

There are regional differences involved, though, so your mileage may vary...

Note that

Eine fröhliche Weihnachten wünschen...

feels wrong to me, whereas

Fröhliche Weihnacht(en) wünschen...

and

Ein fröhliches Weihnachten wünschen...

don't, which agrees with c.p.'s Wiktionary link that has feminine die Weihnacht, neutral das Weihnachten and plural die Weihnachten.

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One finds the explanation in the first line of the Wiktionary entry for this word.

"Regional wird die Weihnacht f, das Weihnachten n und die Weihnachten (Plural) unterschiedlich gebraucht."

Weihnacht (feminine noun) and Weihnachten (neuter) are then different words. If you find fröhliche Weihnachten, it must be the plural.


By the way, slightly off-topic: Does one say an or zu Weihnachten?

Sie wollten {an·zu} Weihnachten kommen.

The answer is here, taken from one of my favourite sources (Atlas zur deutschen Alltagssprache): enter image description here

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Sure, but what I'm seeing is "fröhliche Weihnachten" (where Weihnachten is neuter), not "fröhliche Weihnacht". –  karoshi Dec 15 '13 at 19:28
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@Weihnachten is also the plural. –  c.p. Dec 15 '13 at 19:35
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@karoshi ja, sozusagen. But why is it used in plural, I don't know. –  c.p. Dec 15 '13 at 19:40

According to the dictionary, Weihnachten is neuter, yet the "fröhliche" variant seems to be widely used.

Yes. The simple answer is, it's plural. Weihnachten = geweihte Nächte = holy nights.

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