A few weeks ago I read a posting on Facebook from a very nice lady I did not know pleading with me and anyone else who would read her post to make sure I put the Christ in Christmas and to please not use the X-Mas abbreviation in any Christmas cards, notes, emails, etc., during the holidays.
This posting was written with the purest of intentions from a woman of faith excited about the season which is upon us. She wanted to make sure that we all remember the reason we put up trees, decorate our houses, go caroling, go shopping, fight over parking spots at the mall, bake cookies, exchange gifts, are nice to strangers for a few weeks and travel half way across the country to be with family and friends once a year. She wanted to make darn sure we do not “X-out the reason for the season” in the midst of our busy routines of getting ready for all the festivities of Christmas Day.
She wants us to remember in whose name we gather on December 25th each year and I commend her for speaking up for her convictions. However, as I can attest from my own experience sometimes folks do things with the best of intentions based on what they know without knowing the “rest of the story” as the old syndicated radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say. I know this because I on one more than one occasion have been a “know it all” only to find out later I did not.
This well meaning Facebooker reminded me of a conversation I had with my dear departed dad years ago about this very subject. I remember asking my dad one Christmas season why folks wrote “Merry X-Mas instead of Merry Christmas?” It did not make any sense to me why people would not spell out Christmas. The only reason I was remotely curious about this was one of our neighbors had their mailbox decorated with a festive red wraparound that spelled out “Merry X-Mas.”
To be honest, I don’t remember anything my dad told me that night. In my defense, I was somewhere between 6-8 years old asking questions in front of a well lit Christmas tree hyped up on cocoa and sugar cookies and I had the attention span of a gnat. To be fair, at 43, I am still pretty distracted by Christmas trees, cocoa and sugar cookies and my attention span well…wait…what I am writing about? Oh! I remember! To be fair, it doesn’t get much better than the aforementioned combination.
But getting back to the X or not to X at Christmas dilemma let me drop a little Christian history on you. The using of the X-Mas is in no way a secular conspiracy to do away with the mentioning of Christ and actually has its roots in ancient Christianity. What looks like the English letter X we use is also the Greek letter Chi (X) and the first letter used in spelling out the name of Christ in Greek which remember is the original language the Christian New Testament was written in long before it was translated to English.
The letter Chi which looks like our X has been used as a symbol for Christianity as early as the year 312 AD. The Second Letter in the name of Christ when written in Greek looks like our letter P is pronounced in Greek as Rho. Together they are called the Chi Rho and in many churches the world over you will see the symbol of what looks like a letter P overlayed with the letter X. This is actually a “Greek Monogram” if you will that was in use as early as the 300s as well.
The Roman Emperor Constantine — who professed to be a Christian although there is some historical dispute about the sincerity of his claim — put this symbol on his centurions’ shields in battle saying he was “instructed to do so by a Divine power in a vision.” While there is a small outspoken segment of present day evangelicals who have stated they believe X-Mas is a secular effort to do away with the celebration of Christmas it is simply not true.
The origin of X-Mas is almost as old as Christianity itself. I am not saying Christians do not have the right to feel slighted when they see this abbreviation for they are certainly within their rights to do so, but it is not part of anti Jesus conspiracy. So whether you write or say Merry Christmas or Merry X-Mas you are saying essentially the same thing. Blessings to you and yours this holiday season.
Jason Ferguson grew up in Benton and after sneaking out of UALR with a degree in journalism he worked in public policy, campaign politics and journalism before shocking the world by attending and then graduating from seminary. For the last 12 years he's served as a pastor and hospital chaplain in Kansas & Arkansas. He is the pastor of 1st Christian Church of Sherwood (sherwoodfcc.org). Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.