So every year about this time you start seeing people all over the place posting and writing and shouting and reciting about how we should not “take Christ out of Christmas”. And I agree, by the way. Whole-heartedly. But I ran across an article the other day that I thought was pretty fascinating. It addressed this whole thing that happens every year around Christmas and where it all started. You might remember if you’re over 40. It was seen printed that way in an ad or something and the Christian community was instantly up in arms about it.
For years there has been a belief that this was a deliberate, modern attempt by media to take Christ out of Christmas or somehow disrespect His name in some way. The very site or mention of this abbreviation still runs many Christians hot. But I was doing some reading on-line a few days ago and I started to see a lot of articles addressing this. I decided to read one of them and I was pretty amazed at what I found out. First of all, the use of the abbreviation “Xmas” isn’t new or modern, nor was it started in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog…or their parents, or their parents’ parents’.
It turns out this abbreviation started around 400 years ago…and it was started by Christians. The use of the “X” itself derives from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the word Χριστός, translating as “Christ”. The first letter isn’t even an x in Greek, but our letter x in English is the closest thing we have to what it looks like. Later Christians began using the first two letters of that word, the Greek letters chi (c or C) and rho (r or R). These letters were used in the early church to create the chi-rho monogram (see Christian Symbols: Christmas Ornaments), a symbol that by the fourth century became part of the official battle standard of the emperor Constantine.
Some accounts say that during the time of great persecution, Christians began using the X and this symbol here on their houses, in print as a way to safely identify themselves as Christians. Even when it did show up in print it wasn’t any time recently. Try 1436, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type. Back then it was all done by hand, so it was very tedious and very expensive. So things got abbreviated a LOT.
In religious publications, the church began to use the abbreviation C, or simply X, for the word “Christ” to cut down on the cost of the books and pamphlets. From there, the abbreviation moved into general use in newspapers and other publications, and “Xmas” became an accepted way of printing “Christmas” (along with the abbreviations Xian and Xianity).
So, first of all, having the understanding we now have about the origin of the “x”, the first thing we can toss out the window is the pronunciation of the word as “ex-mass”. “Xmas’ is pronounced the same as Christmas, because the x literally translated from the Greek means Christ. There’s no conspiracy to “x-out Christ from Christmas; at least not with that particular abbreviation.
But here’s the thing. First of all, I think this is a pretty glaring illustration of just how easily we adopt and follow pretty-much whatever we’re told as believers. “Blown about by every wind and doctrine”, I seem to remember reading somewhere. Nobody has ever really looked into this. Nobody cared enough to put that much effort into it. But isn’t it ironic that we can be that passionate and that angry and that emotional about something we don’t think is worth the effort to look up and verify for ourselves?
Let’s forget about that part though. Honestly that’s not something most people do. But aren’t there more important things to get angry about? To be passionate or adamant about? And how important is it really, that we keep this holiday about Christ? Aside from mentioning Him a lot, and singing some Carols, and having a Christmas program, don’t we pretty-much go on with business as usual, just like everyone else?
Aren’t we placing the same amount of emphasis on the commercialism and buying and presents and decorating as everybody else? And how little does it take to push you off track with our convictions anyway? Is someone using an x really going to take Christ out of it for you just because you saw it abbreviated? Aside from the annual church observations, what are we doing every year to really keep Christ as the focus of this holiday?
Because I’m thinking those who really “get it” are the ones who see things like “xmas” and are not the least bothered by it. Seeing it abbreviated this way doesn’t change a thing about what I believe, and therefore is no reason for me to get upset. It’s kinda like this one preacher who, every Easter Sunday, spends his entire Easter Sermon methodically proving that Jesus didn’t actually rise on a Sunday, but on a Saturday. Almost obsessively. Even the faces on his congregation when the camera pans seem to say “I don’t care!!” As my pastor said Sunday morning, “I know He was born. I know He died. And I know He rose again. That’s all that matters.”
Here are some sources I referred to for some of the subject matter in this. Be warned though, not all of these are exactly “pro Christian”.