Brief notice: holiday portmanteau 12/25/12

The lead story in the NYT Sunday Review section on the 23rd was headed “One Nation Under God?: A fifth of Americans now list their religious affiliation as ‘none.'” and began

This week millions of “Chreasters” — Americans who attend church only on Christmas and Easter — will crowd into pews to sing carols and renew their vague relationship with the Christian God.

The portmanteau Chreaster isn’t new, although I have no idea of its history, but what makes it more than routine is the connection between its form and meaning.

The crucial fact is that Chreaster refers to a type of person, not to an assemblage of two holidays (as you would expect from its sources). That interpretation is encouraged by the appearance of the -er, which has no function in Easter but is otherwise involved in a variety of derivational formations, some of them referring to types of persons:   not only the agentive -er of reader and the like, but also more inventive uses, as in nutter ‘crazy person’ and birther ‘someone who denies that Barack Obama was born in the United States’. So Chreaster is a portmanteau with an extra twist.


5 Responses to “Brief notice: holiday portmanteau 12/25/12”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    I think that “Chreasters” is mostly a non-Christian construct. In Anglicanism we have “C and E Christians” (only attend on Christmas and Easter) and “A & P Christians”, who only attend on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, when they get something for free.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On “mostly a non-Christian construct”: this embodies a claim about who uses the expression, in what contexts, and for what purposes. That’s an empirical claim, which remains to be tested. You’ve given a report on the practices that are familiar to you from your experience in (one part of) the Anglican Church, and Chreaster isn’t part of that set of practices. But that’s just one data point, and it doesn’t tell us anything about what goes on outside your sphere of close experience. In particular, the leap from “not in my regular experience as a practicing Christian” “we use C and E Christians instead”) to “not a Christian construct” is a huge one, and quite unwarranted. You may be experiencing Chreaster as disrespectful, even sneering, because it’s outside of your familiar practices, but then you’re attributing motives to those who use the expression that might not be justified at all.

      What we need here is facts about usage, and at the moment I don’t have any.

      • chrishansenhome Says:

        I googled “chreaster” and looked at the first 5 pages of results (2900 usages in total–quite a small number for google). From that small data set I did not recognise any Anglican/Episcopal websites or usages. Most of them seemed to be from an Evangelical/fundamentalist viewpoint, and there were a few Roman Catholic sites. So I retract the non-Christian remark. I expect that some Anglicans may be familiar with the word but I’ve never heard it used in an Anglican context. I will ask my Anglican friends about it. If anything significant turns up I will report.

  2. Robert Says:

    I wonder if there’s a similar construct for Jews who only attend temple on the High Holy Days.

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