Christians are largely the reason why most people say “X-mas” (/ˈɛksməs/) instead of Christmas… at least that is the primary reason I have observed within my lifespan.
indignant straw man argument ensues…
straw man: “WHAT? Christians are the ones trying to keep the “Christ” in Christmas. It is those who are trying to make everyone say “X-mas” to make the holiday about something other than Jesus!!”
me: “Did you know that Xtmas or Xmas really does mean “Christmas?” as in, the early church used this Greek character as a standard which has carried on throughout history and is still seen today in church icons and symbols?”
straw man: “There is no way that can be true. It is the politically correct media and department stores that want to appear more diverse and non-christian, so they use the X to cross out Jesus Christ. It is the same people who wish you “happy holidays” rather than “merry Christmas.” Even if the “X” stands for “Christ”, nobody means it that way anymore.”
me: “Is it possible that Christians have played a large part in that process, possibly due to ignorance of their own traditions? How could we have possibly avoided this situation altogether, or mitigate it now, rather than pouring fuel on the fire?”
ok… this is the point that I actually write the blog… as continuing the straw man argument could turn into a caricature, which I’m trying to avoid…
Check out this article on Wikipedia prior to reading on…
Growing up in several different churches, I quickly came to realize that it was my good Christian duty to take great offense to the term Xmas… should I ever see it anywhere. Funny thing was that I rarely saw it anywhere. But when I did, by golly it was time to get righteously angered!
By my teenage years (early 1990s), the term “Happy Holidays” was also demonized. It was “clear” that the department stores were trying to edge the Christian holiday of Christmas right out of the vernacular. Stories were told from the pulpit that those atheists were trying to make Christ’s birthday into simply a bank holiday, or that those “cults” like Hinduism or Judaism were forcing everyone to be politically correct and celebrate all of their holidays too… like Diwali or Hanukkah. By God, this was a Christian country, and we needed to stand up and keep the entire season about little baby Jesus in a manger.
Still, by the time I had reached adulthood, I could only recall a very few incidents where I had heard ANYONE outside of church say “X-mas” (I could probably count them on one hand)… and similarly few incidents where I saw “Xmas” in print or on an advertisement. Each year, however, I saw at least one new book come out from Christian publishing that decried the use of “X-mas” or heralded a similar such “take Christmas back for the Christians” type of theme. I couldn’t figure it out. There MUST be a bunch of people out there saying X-mas and “Happy Holidays” as a slam against Christians, or why would pastors and authors everywhere be so worried?
For a long time I just relegated this conversation to the “must be true, but unimportant to me” category. I supposed that somewhere Christians must be persecuted in this way, just not where I was. After all, Christians are constantly being persecuted in America right?
Well, as it turns out, wrong. Christians have never been freer than we are in the USA to practice our religion. Without going too far on another topic for another blog, let’s just say that American Christians have a really tough time accepting the fact that we have freedom that extends farther than almost any period in history… we are generally the ones “on top” with the most influence and power… and rather we would like to create the persecution narrative that we are oppressed and need to “fight back.” It is much easier to justify an attitude of righteous defensiveness than it is to simply come out and say “I’m excluding your religion and beliefs (or lack thereof) as a continuation of my colonial religious imperialism.”
Do you realize how few books, TV shows, or documentaries have been produced that actually denounce Christmas as a holiday or encourage atheists, secular humanists, or the like to boycott or attempt to destroy the Christian view of Christmas? I guarantee you that your search would come up lacking.
“Well,” straw man may say, “it is a secret agenda… they’re making backroom deals and lurking in dark corporate boardrooms… not writing books. They’re sneaky like that.”
Could it be, on the other hand, that Christians have invented this concern out of thin air as a response to a perceived or extremely minimal threat? Is it possible that someone could have, at one time, been unaware of the historical context of the Christian use of X or Xt, and instead started a rumor that it was an attack from the outside? Is it possible that a rumor within the church quickly became fact, and that generations have now been influenced by a line of reasoning that has no basis in truth? No way. That never happens.
Could it be that a virtual non-issue has become full-fledged in the past 30 or so years because of nothing more than perpetuated hearsay… driven by a Christian media industry that needs to make money each year and leaders who would rather lead a crusade of words against an oppressive bogeyman rather than physically lead a community of the “haves” into communities of “have-nots” seeking justice and mercy? When was the last time that you heard a pastor finish a sermon about putting the “Christ back in Christmas” by telling you to go BE Christ right now to the poor and oppressed in your town? (God bless the pastor who does this.)
The page about “Xmas” on snopes.com makes it a point to say,
“None of this means that Christians (and others) aren’t justified in feeling slighted when people write ‘Xmas’ rather than ‘Christmas,’ but the point is that the abbreviation was not created specifically for the purpose of demeaning Christ, Christians, Christianity, or Christmas; it’s a very old artifact of a very different language.”
I have to disagree with that opening statement. To embrace the most extreme interpretation of what you perceive as facts, and then stubbornly use them as an excuse to carry on an idea which is proven not only false, but counter to your own message — well, no, we are not justified in feeling ‘slighted.’ Some things are not justifiable.
How different could it have been if, from day one, Christians made it a point to embrace Xmas and emphasize its traditional roots. Well, for one, book sales would be down…
Now, in hindsight, how humble but perception-changing might it be if Christians began to reclaim Xmas… pronounce it properly as “Christmas,” and use the opportunity as a way of saying both “we’ve been wrong, taken offense where there was none to be taken, but want to make it right…” AND make the point that Christ was never taken out of Christmas, except maybe by the same sins we all suffer from (Christians included), like consumerism, mismanagement of debt, and prioritizing “things” ahead of family, community, and goodwill toward our fellow humans. Christians can start making it right by BEING Christ in their environment rather than just talking about him. It is easy for someone to argue the value of Christ or the sincerity of Christians when you’re just standing there demonizing everyone else. It’s hard to argue with someone who is walking the walk, showing love and care for “the least of these.”
Sometimes rewriting the narrative or the history to make yourself look like a victim comes back to haunt you. Nobody can say what the world’s view toward Christianity might look like if we weren’t so quick to define ourselves by what we are against. How much better would we do if we weren’t adding to the mess a bunch of made-up offenses such as the whole X-mas/Happy Holidays gobbledy-gook?
I’ll take this moment to note that Jesus never talked about a mandatory celebration of his birthday, but he was very clear about (literally) demonizing the celebration of riches and money. In Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:9-13. Depending on translation, Jesus interchangeably uses the term “Mammon” (demon of money) with “riches” or “money”. He doesn’t pull any punches when he says you cannot serve both God and money (Mammon).
I fully support and encourage Christians and church communities that are beginning to embrace efforts such as the Advent Conspiracy. I think this is a wonderful first-step, and certainly on the right track. I will say, however, that the majority of American Christians at this point in time are still willing to fully embrace all that is the consumer-driven machine which dominates the Christmas season and the narrative of our culture. While many Christians faithfully go to church on Advent Sundays and Christmas eve, they still spend ten times the number of hours in a mall than they do aiding the poor or advocating for justice for those with fewer rights or resources.
If you’re looking to reclaim Christmas, try first showing what it means to be a follower of Christ. Be humble. Be a servant, not a crusader for some exaggerated offense.