Keeping the X in Xmas

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, December 12, 2015

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When I was 6, I drew a Christmas picture in Sunday school. At the top of it, I wrote “Merry Xmas.”

Big mistake.

I presented the drawing before the whole Sunday school class, and the teacher proceeded to inform me that I had committed a shameful act.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

Writing “Xmas” took the Christ out of Christmas. I should never do that.

I’ve hated Sunday school ever since.

And I’ve got some news for that Sunday school teacher who shamed children publicly. Xmas is an abbreviation of Christmas based on the Greek letter chi (X), which is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.

The use of Xmas dates back to the middle ages. In fact, X has been used as an abbreviation for Christ in all kinds of forms, not just for the saint’s day assigned to him. Christian has been abbreviated as Xtian, christianity – Xtianity, Xcetera.

Xmas was nothing extraordinary. It was an abbreviation, pure and simple. A common convention to save space.

I don’t think the citizens of the Middle-English speaking world, so deeply entrenched in Xtianity as they were, were trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. Anyone doing so would be burned at the stake as a heretic. Medieval England had a zero-tolerance policy against heresy, and no concept of division of church and state – or church and state-of-mind, for that matter.

My resentment-motivated research into this matter uncovered a possible explanation for my Sunday school teacher’s mob-mentality on the subject.

I was 6 in 1977. In that year, a politician sent out a press release saying that he wanted journalists to “keep the Christ in Christmas” and not use Xmas because Xmas was a pagan spelling of Christmas.

Pagan? Because it’s Greek?

While Greek mythology is indeed pagan, does that mean all things Greek are pagan? What language was the New Testament originally written in again?

There is no group of people I would regard as more single-mindedly devoted to Christ than the Puritans. The Puritans of England banned Christmas in 1647, considering it an instrument of the Pope’s control with no biblical justification.

The Puritans of Boston banned Christmas in the later part of the 1600s. They weren’t seeking to keep the Christ in Christmas. They seemed to have believed he wasn’t in there in the first place.

I haven’t noticed Xmas used publicly in years. It seems the campaign against it worked. The first six letters of the word have remained safely unabbreviated for quite some time. We can all relax about that.

Yet the rallying cry still rings today. “Keep the Christ in Christmas!” There are posters and t-shirts available. At a Christmas Eve service, I was handed a button that said, “I say ‘Merry Christmas.'” I said merry Christmas while I threw it away.

The War on Christmas is ongoing. Instead of Xmas, the problem is the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” or other generic greetings and warm wishes. Doing so appparently secularizes Christmas and is part of a larger campaign to take the day away from Christians.

On the other hand, the people who argue for the use of “Happy Holidays” make the argument that those who aren’t Christians (I’m told there are some in the U.S.) feel excluded by “Merry Christmas,” and thus, wishing them a “Merry Christmas” causes alienation.

This matters to a corporation, which doesn’t care what a consumer’s religious leanings are, just where his money is spent.

Does a desire to include everyone in well wishes really translate into a corresponding desire to take away a Christian’s right to celebrate Christmas?

Is it necessary, in order to prove they aren’t anti-Christian, for businesses to alienate non-Christians by “Keeping the Christ in Christmas?”

What is served by all this strong-arming?

If I am forced through social pressure to say “Merry Christmas” or else be shamed, how am I going to feel about this Christ guy, and how his people treat others? Didn’t he tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves or something? But that might be irrelevant.

Perhaps it’s more important to defend my right to follow Christ than to actually follow him. Or perhaps following Christ only starts once I’m firmly secure in my right to do so. Maybe it actually says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you, unless you feel threatened, then just undo others.”

It might be possible to make everyone say “Merry Christmas,” but it’s not possible to make them mean it.

When it comes to the War on Christmas, I am an early casualty. I experienced at an impressionable age how fighting to “keep the Christ in Christmas” can damage someone’s willingness to embrace Christ at all.

I just hope today that some unwitting child who writes “Happy Holidays” at the top of her Sunday school drawing doesn’t meet with the same treatment.

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist for the Messenger. She wholeheartedly wishes you a Merry Xmas and Happy Holidays.

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