December 21, 2015

Putting the X back in Christmas

by Clint Archer

xmas blocks

I’m all for putting Christ back in Christmas. And there is no doubt that our secularized culture is working hard at surreptitiously ushering the Baby out, without losing the murky bathwater of gift-giving and commercial celebration. But I’d like to address the misinformed concern that the use of “Xmas” as a placeholder for “Christmas” is part of the conspiracy to excise Christ from his holiday.

First, Christmas is not a biblical holiday. There are no New Covenant feast days; besides communion there is no recurring remembrance that is mandated. The Catholics came up with the Christ Mass feast, and global retailers and consumers alike hopped on the bandwagon. So, if Jesus becomes as absent to the secular mindset from Christmastime as he is from Halloween, there is no loss to the New Covenant.

Second, and this is my main point, using “X” to replace “Christ” is not necessarily an indication of anything sinister. I have used Xmas and Christmas interchangeably with a clear conscience ever since learning about the history of its usage.

Some Christians shun the use of Xmas.

In an interview Franklin Graham opined on behalf of evangelicalism:

For us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas. They’re happy to say merry Xmas. Let’s just take Jesus out. And really, I think, a war against the name of Jesus Christ.”

 

This, I believe, is an understandable but unnecessary overreaction.

The Greek word for Christ or Messiah is Christos. But Greek doesn’t use the “ch” combo as in cha-cha or chisel. It has a single letter that designates that sound, the letter chi (pronounced kai or key—we don’t know which), and is written like a large English X.

So Christ was written to look a little like this; Xpistos. X became the symbol for the name Jesus as shorthand to save ink and also as Christianese insiders’ argot.

In English, the habit of writing Christmas as Xmas is well-attested in history, dating well before the culture began to feel squeamish about having Christ in Christmas.

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a manuscript that dates back to 1100 AD, the festive season was already being called “Xpes mæss.” And Lord Byron was using the abbreviation as it appears today in his writings by 1811; he was not known for being a Scrooge with Messianic titles. The correspondence of Samuel Coleridge and Lewis Carroll in the 19th century was also sporting the vogue of abbreviating English with Greek place-holders when referring to the Yuletide festivities.

All that to say, X is not excluding, excising, or excusing the name Christ.

Rather than feel we need to forfeit our linguistic heritage, the privilege of employing Christ’s X still belongs to us Xtians.

So Merry Xmas!

 

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • You got that one right on the X! And yes! Only Communion or the Lord’s Supper is the only recurring remembrance that is mandated under the New Covenant.

    • Thanks for the resounding affirmation Thomas!

  • Yes, you are correct, and I like your use of “not necessarily.”

    Because there ARE folks who DO want to remove the name Christ from everything. It’s really a heart issue. I wrote about it with a similar title a while ago if you want to read it: http://michaelcoughlin.net/index.php/2013/12/can-we-put-the-x-back-in-xmas/

    Note: I have since become comfortable with the X in my own writing, but I’m careful when and with whom I use it.

    • Doron

      like

    • Jason

      Your article perfectly covers this issues with the terms we use.

      In today’s culture, it would be naive to assume that people generally shortening the celebration’s name primarily because they’re aware of the Greek origins of the term. It’s just another traditional term for the festivities, and at least some *do* use it as an equivocation. Even “Christmas” tends to invoke more thoughts of snow and Santa than Jesus for most I’m sure.

      This is the struggle of expressing ourselves in a time when most terms are used to mask what we’re really trying to say in the interests of political correctness and malicious deception. It’s why labels are dangerous and we should really take the time to explain ourselves more explicitly when time allows.

      • Thanks for the encouraging words.

      • Right, the key is to use the opportunities God gives us at this time of year to swing the conversation to Christ and his work.

    • Good point Michael; it certainly can be a not-so-subtle exclusion of the title Christ. However, if a person really wanted to be PC, they’d go the whole hog and say “Happy Holidays” or the “Merry Festive Season” instead of Christmas or Xmas.

  • Doron

    may be. Meanwhile it doesn’t matter if you are right or not, because most people have no clue. And we know that using X hast still the effect on people that Christ has been removed. But why should we have this feast at all, instead of keeping the biblical feasts? this is also a good question you mentioned, apparently without interest in trying to answer it.

    • There are a cornucopia of other articles I’ve done on the biblical feasts; this one was about the X in Xmas.

  • fundamentals

    There is much ignorance on this topic, and Clint Archer is absolutely correct. At various times in the past, I have used the “Xmas” abbreviation, but in this day and time, I feel it is more efficacious to use the actual word, “Christmas”.

    Merry Christmas to all!

    • I agree that wherever possible, we should draw attention to Christ and his work, especially around unbelievers. Among Christians though, the use of the abbreviation is a nod at our Greek heritage, so we are free to use or abstain from use 😉

  • Still Waters

    Thank you for helping to set the historical record straight. There is a lot of conspiracy theories, shall we say, surrounding Christmas which Christians unfortunately have swallowed hook, line, and sinker. It makes for a lot of unnecessary frustration.

    On the point of Christmas not being a mandated Biblical holiday, that is true and we should be thankful. The new covenant gives a lot more freedom to celebrate or not. I sometimes think that there must have been occasions when the Passover celebration, for example, was difficult for individuals – maybe they couldn’t afford a lamb or there was sickness in the house or any of the things that make Christmas celebrations difficult for us. However, it is interesting to read John 10:22-23, and realize that Christ had no problem observing a feast which wasn’t Biblically mandated. The feast of dedication is what we know as Hanukkah, and it is not included in the Mosaic Law feasts because it wasn’t instituted until after the Maccabean revolt. It would seem there isn’t anything wrong with making a new celebration, so long as it doesn’t become a legalistic burden.

    • I totally agree. We are free to keep whatever feasts we want and we are free to abstain from whatever feast we want (except communion), as long as we genuinely do so to the glory of God.

  • Nikon1isAwesome!

    As a Baptist, I’ll say Happy ChristX – taking the mass out of Christmas.

    • Lol. Love it.

    • KPM

      “Mass” only means dismissal, as partaking in the Lord’s Supper was, traditionally, the last part of the Sunday morning service.

      Eucharist, similarly, means thanksgiving and is taken from Christ’s “giving thanks,” before he broke bread at the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

      As with the “X” in Christmas, I’m not sure we need to be anti-“Mass” or anti-“Eucharist.” We just need to understand what the terms mean before we use them.

      • Very true, we can use terms that we understand. I’d just caution that Catholicism has its own vocabulary that uses words differently from their biblical meaning, e.g. Eucharist which means thanks giving, to them means the transubstantiated flesh of Jesus that “we are thankful for him giving in sacrifice again.” And the Mass refers to the “massacre of Jesus” and confession refers to the saving sacrament of saying confession to an ordained priest, and baptism is the saving sacrament of sprinkling a baby, and “catholic” meaning Universal church but to them meaning only the Roman Catholic church as the only manifestation of the Universal church etc, etc, etc.

        • KPM

          I’ve never heard that the term “mass” means massacre. That’s not what Catholics say either. The closing words of the mass are “ite missa est,” meaning you are dismissed. Missa sounds similar to mass, which is why it is called mass.

          http://catholicism.about.com/od/worship/p/The_Mass.htm

          Eucharist is a term that dates back to Ignatius of Antioch who was a disciple of the Apostle John and clearly affirmed that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ.

          The Catholic idea of the re-presentation of Christ developed around the 11th century along with the doctrine of transubstantiation. The terms mass and Eucharist both out date the current Roman Catholic position on the meaning behind the mass.

          If the secularists have hijacked X-mas to avoid using the name of Christ, then the Roman Catholics have hijacked the terms “mass” and eucharist to mean something other than what was meant by the original users of those terms.

          If it’s okay to use the secularist-hijacked X-mas, why is it not okay to use the Roman Catholic hijacked mass or eucharist?

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  • Nicki Ann

    I actually (apparently wrongly) thought the X was a Latin abbreviation, so error abounds! I can remember Xmas being used freely 50 years ago before there was any war on Christmas.

    This little discussion really points to a more important issue and that is what should be our biblical response to an increasingly pagan society?

    • X is Latin for 10.

      I think your point about a more important issue is dead right. And far too important for the comment thread on a blog!

  • tovlogos

    “First, Christmas is not a biblical holiday. There are no New Covenant feast days; besides communion there is no recurring remembrance that is mandated…So, if Jesus becomes as absent to the secular mindset from Christmastime as he is from Halloween, there is no loss to the New Covenant.” Good point.

    As I read, I was leaning toward Nicki Ann’s perspective, in that the ‘world’ doesn’t even see “Christ” in Christmas.

    • Right, Xmas really is a secular holiday which Xtians can enjoy to the glory of God. (this line of reasoning is also applied to All Hallow’s Eve and Mondays in other posts on this blog; search for “Monday”)

  • Sir Aaron

    Sometimes I think people complicate things. I always believed X-MAS was merely an attempt by some to be trendy in the age of text abbreviations and acronyms.

    I also think that marketing today is a game of big data analytics. Companies are crunching the numbers and are trying to use terms that appeal the widest base of customers while reducing negative twitter trends by those groups who cause the most trouble. It’s not some sort of animus but merely a desire to get along with everyone (something that usually fails).

    • Nicki Ann

      Sir Aaron, dear friend, how old are you? Xmas is way older than texting!

      As to the marketing, I am sure you are right on some fronts, but not on others. There are clearly companies trying to influence a cultural agenda.

      • He’d have to be over 1000 to predate the use of Xmas!

      • Sir Aaron

        Isn’t that the crux of the blog post. Before texting, it was chatrooms. My point is just that my first thought doesn’t immediately go to evil intentions of others.

    • I’m pretty sure I covered the fallacy that Xmas is new terminology somewhere in the above article 🙂

      • Sir Aaron

        Yeah, although I have serious doubts about the modern use of it having any link to the past use. In any case, I wasn’t really disputing your post. I just said what I always thought as a juxtaposition against others thinking it is a grand conspiracy.