If saying “Seasons Greetings” gets people angry enough to hit Salvation Army bell ringers, seeing someone write “Xmas” may cause veterans of the War on Christmas to have dangerous flashbacks and go into a violent rage.
But should it? I know it did for me when I was a kid.
I remember watching a game show around Christmas and getting mad because they used “Xmas.”
Being the astute childhood theology prodigy that I was, I expressed outrage and indignation that the show would dare “take Christ out of Christmas.”
Many Christians show the same anger toward those who use the term today. But where did the term actually originate and what is it intended to signify?
The abbreviation actually has a long history in the church. Before we join the outrage, we should at least know what we are talking about.
Some of you may be thinking, “How is it not removing Christ? You are taking His name out and putting in an ‘X.’ That’s pretty much the definition of ‘taking Christ out of Christmas.’”
Except in reality, the X is simply an abbreviation for Christ, not a replacement for Him. The letter in Xmas is not an English letter, but a Greek one – the first letter in Χρίστος, or Christos, the Greek word for Messiah.
Throughout church history, Christians used the letter “X” (alliterated as “Chi”) as shorthand for Christ. It became a symbol for Jesus.
Here’s a great explanation from R.C. Sproul, one of the most prominent modern theologians:
The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.
Despite Sproul’s explanation of the historical roots of X as a symbol of Christ, many modern Christian still see it as their goal to shame all who would dare to use something from church history, because after all, who has time to to look at stuff from that long ago?
Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe, learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago.
In a Facebook status update, Bart wrote “Also for you Greenville, Tx folk. We are not doing our Xmas show this year. Taking a break.”
The Christian culture-vultures descended and began to interpret their own meaning from his usage of Xmas. He was accused of removing the reason for Christmas and told he needed to apologize to his fans for offending them.
How about this – how about the fans that were offended, apologize for not knowing church history?
There is nothing inherently wrong with ignorance in and of itself. We can’t know everything about everything. Ignorance is a fact of life. But you should not want to remain ignorant.
And it’s not particularly praiseworthy to be a Christian and ignorant of your own history, but ready to unleash the fury of all your ignorance in an un-Christlike manner – either on your brother or sister in Christ or on someone who needs to know our Savior.
So many people end up more stressed during the Christmas season than at any other time of the year. Why add more by getting worked up over something that is actually part of the historical tradition of your faith?