A well-dressed and well-spoken elder gentleman paid me a visit a few days ago, said he was troubled by something that appeared in this newspaper. His problem was with the abbreviation of Christmas as “Xmas.”
I responded that I appreciated his concern, moreover I wanted to assure him that there was certainly no effort by me or any of the HDN staff to censor our Lord’s rightful title or any wish to minimize the significance of this season. Speaking purely as a newspaperman, Xmas just fits the headlines better. But, to paraphrase the legendary American raconteur Paul Harvey, there’s actually a lot more to the story.
The idea of “X” as an abbreviation for the title of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. What’s more, the church has used the symbol of a fish historically because it is an acronym. The word “fish” in ancient Greek is “ichthus” (IXOYE) and uses the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
So these early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put the letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of “X” to symbolize the title of Christ and, even from its origin, it has never meant any disrespect or irreverence.
While I am well aware of how increasingly secular our culture is becoming, I do not think the “Xmas vs. Christmas” fight is a hill we should be willing to die on. Further, I understand the desire to “keep the Christ in Christmas,” but I would go one better: keep the Christ in everything! Don’t just parade Him out as a festive character once a year. Keep the Christ in Halloween, in Thanksgiving, and in New Year’s Day. Keep the Christ in Monday through Saturday, as well as Sunday.
Anyone trying to “X out” the Lord from the day we observe His incarnation is participating in a fool’s errand, especially once you step back and realize what that “X” stands for.
X marks the spot where God’s glory was revealed, on the Cross. Every time I see “Xmas” I think of the Cross. X is the Greek letter “chi” which is the first letter for “Christos” which is the title by which we call Jesus: He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. The “Son of Man” and Messiah, the God-Man who came to rescue us from sin, death and Satan (and ourselves). It seems that many of us need rescuing from ourselves even more now.
I’m not sure there really is a culture war over “X” instead of “Christ.” It’s the other instead-ofs that we need to war against: those idols that steal our joy and captivate us from fully following Christ. What is ultimate to you? What do you build your life upon?
Though most polls claim about 20 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas (or Xmas) purely as a secular holiday, I wonder if the key is to bring the Gospel back in the forefront for the three-fourths of us who claim Christmas as a religious event.
Jesus is the Good News. He brings us the resources to look past ourselves, not be offended by those who do not know God, and to respond with compassion and grace — and in creative ways in keeping with our being made in the image of God.
Americans know why we Christians are outraged at the X instead of Christ, but do they also know why we think Jesus is a big deal? Do they see His life portrayed through ours? Do we make them want to know what the “X” is all about?
To broaden the discussion, I find that having a shared season of “Happy Holidays” is a great antidote to the otherwise break-neck pace of our culture. If Jesus is special grace (John 1:14-16), then the pause in American society of Dec. 25 is a common grace. Most people have time off, get to be with family, and are simply nicer to be around. That’s my experience anyways.
Even with “Happy Holidays” and “Xmas,” it’s like we all have a head start on conversations. Those terms may not be a simple pathway to getting my views heard, but it is an easy pathway to valuing people, slowing down, asking questions, and even challenging assumptions.
People generally don’t care about my personal relationship with Jesus. They do care how my life reflects Him.
Because of the Cross and who Christ is, I say let’s keep the “X” in Christmas.