Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays and Merry X-mas!

If you read my last post on Christmas traditions, then you know that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Christmas! So I've been thinking about a couple of popular Christian topics around this time of year and thought I would share some thoughts on the issues and maybe offer a little bit of a history lesson. Our pastor is one of the best preachers I've ever sat under and it seems like he's always got an aside in his sermon that is more profound that many pastors' main points. Seriously. He's that good. Anyway, a couple years ago he made a comment about all the commotion that's been raised in the recent past about being politically correct around Christmastime. "Merry Christmas" has turned into "Happy Holidays" with a lot of businesses and on Greeting Cards and in songs so as not to offend those who don't celebrate Christmas and to encompass those who celebrate other religious holidays. I'm very used to hearing Christians grumble about this and take offense, but he didn't. In fact, he said something along the lines of, "The world isn't celebrating Christmas anyway, so why would we get mad about it? The focus on commercialism and Santa has nothing to do with the incarantion of Christ, so it really doesn't need to be called Christmas." (This is a major paraphrase people.... he's much more eloquent and I should have written it down when it said it, but I didn't.) At first it was so contrary to what I was used to hearing that I didn't absorb it right away. As I thought about it though, I became more convinced that what he said was right. Why do we (Christians) get so caught up in expecting the world to act like Christians? Why would we expect people who don't love Jesus to feel attached to the word "Christmas" and feel compelled to call what they celebrate "Christmas"? Even if they do call it "Christmas", if Christ is not involved in their celebration, then that's not really what it is they're celebrating. It's merely a pagan celebration involving fun and good will towards others, but there's nothing sacred about it. In fact, one may be able to go so far as to say that embracing what the world calls "Christmas" in many ways defames the name of Christ. His name is part of something that often has nothing to do with him. So, I've resolved that when someone tells me "Happy Holidays," I'll respond with "Merry Christmas" but I won't get mad. I'll pray that someday their vain-attempt-to-bring-true-happiness "holiday" will turn into a blessed-celebration-of -the-Word-made-flesh "Christmas." Which leads me to another hot topic. The supposed removal of Christ's name from the word Christmas, found penned as "Xmas," often gets Christians up in arms. Here's a bit of history that you might find interesting. As a child I had always heard that "Xmas" was a non-Christian's way of taking Christ's name out of Christmas. One day my Grandpa Cooper (who was a bit of a history buff) told me that "Xmas" wasn't bad and that the "X" actually stood for Christ. I found it interesting enough that I never forgot it; however, I never heard support of this statement growing up, so I became skeptical over time and assumed he must have been wrong. As a Greek student at Moody, we talked briefly about the issue and how the Greek letters "Chi" and "Rho" ("X" and "P") became a popular abbreviation for Christ because they were the first two letters in the word "Christos" or Christ. (Click the link to the article below to see pictures of how this looked) We talked about how sometimes just an "X" was used and thus the abbreviation "Xmas" came into being as a way to represent the word "Christmas" but we didn't talk about details of how that came to be. I decided to make a "tricky" Christmas quiz for our AWANA kids this year and added a question about this issue on it. I decided to do a little more research on it so that I would have clear answers if they asked any and found this explanation from Dennis Bratcher fascinating! ( Here's the part that was new to me:

In any case, by the fifteenth century Xmas emerged as a widely used symbol for Christmas. In 1436 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type. In the early days of printing, typesetting was done by hand and was very tedious and expensive. As a result, abbreviations were common. In religious publications, the church began to use the abbreviation "X" for the word "Christ" to cut down on the cost of the books and pamphlets. From here, the abbreviation moved into general use in newspapers and other publications, and "Xmas" became an accepted way of printing "Christmas" (along with the abbreviation Xian and Xianity). Even Webster's dictionary acknowledges that the abbreviations "Xmas" was in common use by the middle of the sixteenth century.

So there is no grand scheme to dilute Christianity by promoting the use of Xmas instead of Christmas. It is not an modern invention to try to convert Christmas into a secular day, nor is it a device to promote the commercialism of the holiday season. Its origin is thoroughly rooted in the heritage of the Church. It is simply another way to say Christmas, drawing on a long history of symbolic abbreviations used in the Church. In fact, as in other abbreviations used in common speech or writing (such as Mr. or etc.), the abbreviation "Xmas" should be pronounced "Christmas" just as if the word were written out it full, rather than saying, "exmas." Understanding this use of Christian symbolism might help us modern day Xians focus on more important issues of the Faith during Advent, and bring a little more Peace to the Xmas season.

This is just the end of the article and the whole thing is really worth reading if you want a better (much better) explanation on the other stuff. All this is not to say that there are not some who use "Xmas" as a way to avoid the name of Christ, but I find it kind of funny that if that is their intention, they are unsuccessful. :)
I especially like what Bratcher says at the end of his article and thought his encouragement to focus on more important issues of the faith during Advent were dead on. So here's to keeping the focus on Christ and not "issues."

1 comment:

  1. Great thought on Merry Christmas. I figure, there are at least four holidays in December and then the first day in January is also a holiday so I have no problem saying Happy Holidays. I have no idea if I'm talking to someone who celebrates Hannukah, Christmas, Winter Soltace (how do you spell it anyway), Kwanza and New Years so I say Happy Holidays - since there is more than one holiday this month! I'm also not a fan of Christians pouting because the world isn't Christians and bending over backwards to serve the minority of us. We should be serving them, blessing them and loving them not expecting them to do that for us. One way would be to respect their wishes as long as it doesn't cause me sin.