Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keep X in Xmas


My friend is a PhD now, a church consultant, but a little over a quarter century ago, she was one of my fellow students in seminary. And I remember one December when she jokingly admonished me to "Keep X in Xmas."

This was well before the talking heads had trumped up an imaginary "War on Christmas" to keep the culture warriors on alert. Back then there was only a vague concern among Christians that the celebration of Jesus' birthday was being obscured by Santa, Rudolph and Frosty. Some worried that a  cultural accretion of tinsel and sleigh bells was deafening us to the angel's announcement: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." I am all for keeping Christ in Christmas, but...

There was no "War on Christmas" then. There isn't one now.

It is time we all faced the fact that we live in a pluralistic society. No one is keeping Christians from keeping Christmas. Ours is not, however, the only religion in town. Many people of many faiths celebrate holidays around the time of the Winter Solstice. It is not an insult to wish someone, whose faith you may not know, "Happy Holidays." If you take offense at a kind wish, it only reflects badly on you.

There is a drug store in my town with a marquee sign out front. This time of year they advertise special prices on "C-MAS CARDS" and other "C-MAS" merchandise. I think I see what they are doing. The sign is only so large. An abbreviation for the word "Christmas" is useful. They are a retail establishment. Offending customers is not a wise business practice. They worry that some Christians will take umbrage if they use the abbreviation "Xmas." So they have taken the "X" out of Xmas and replaced it with "C" for "Christ."

I wonder, though, if they realize the "X" in Xmas is not the English letter "Ecks" at all. It is not a mathematical symbol. It does not signify the unknown. It is, rather, the Greek letter "Chi," the initial letter of "Christos" from which we get our word "Christ."  The cruciform letter Chi, which is written "X," has been used for centuries as an abbreviation for "Christ." The abbreviation "Xmas" is not blasphemous. It no more takes Christ out of Christmas than does the abbreviation "C-mas."

Xians who take offense at the abbreviation "Xmas" only show their ignorance of their own faith. Even if "Xmas" were an insult, taking offense would be a betrayal of the Teacher who told us to "turn the other cheek." So this year, I will be keeping "X" in Xmas. My friend was smarter than I even before she got her PhD.

Got 10 minutes? Enjoy Jon Stewart's humorous take on the "War on Christmas" here.


  1. Every discipline has its own shorthand abbreviations. In seminary, we commonly used abbreviations for God, Christ, Christian, Jesus Christ, theology, theologian, etc. I wonder if some of our parishioners would be offended to know that their pastors still regularly use those abbreviations.

  2. Hi, Anonymous.

    Like you, I used a lot of abbreviations while furiously scribbling notes in seminary: X for Christ, JC for Jesus Christ, JB for John the Baptist, θ (theta) for God (Theos in Greek), θlogy for theology. etc. I still us many of these abbreviations when writing notes for sermons, blogposts and such. I would hope that my parishioners would not be offended that I use them. After all, I'm not offended when my doctor writes "RX."