Father Randy Dollins: Putting the X in Xmas
December 19, 2007
There are mixed feelings about abbreviating Christmas as Xmas.
Some view it as yet another way that Christmas has been stripped of its true meaning. In an increasingly secular world, Christmas has become a commercial holiday with an entire world of songs, customs and stories that have seemingly nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Last week, ABC aired “Shrek the Halls,” a new Christmas special starring all of the famous characters from the Shrek movies. At one point in the show, Shrek is apologizing for becoming angry with all of his friends’ celebration of Christmas, and he admits, “I don’t even know what Christmas means; this is my first Christmas.”
Donkey is very surprised and says, “You mean to tell me that you have never had a Christmas?”
As I watched, I became excited, could it be that Donkey was going to preach the gospel to Shrek? Was Donkey about to tell Shrek about the birth of Jesus? My hope quickly abated when he went on to say, “No chestnuts, no Santa, no presents, no stocking, no nut cakes?”
When it came to expressing the meaning of Christmas, it seems ABC didn’t want to commit to anything more profound than food, decorations, and family time.
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Maybe this should have been billed as an Xmas special. Maybe not. In many cultures, the holiday is referred to as the Nativity, which comes from the Latin nativitas, meaning arisen by birth.
Yet, in English-speaking countries, it is called Christmas. Let us investigate the word Christmas so that we can figure out where the abbreviation Xmas comes from.
Christmas comes from two Old English words CrÃistes and MÃ:sse. The contemporary English equivalents are “Christ” and “Mass.” “Christ” we recognize, but many who are reading this might not understand “Mass.”
The Christian liturgical celebration of communion (also Eucharist) is called the Mass (believed to be derived from the Latin words of dismissal at the end of the service, “Ite, missa est.”)
Thus, Christmas is the Mass of Christ.
There are a number of other Christian holidays that have had a similar name construction. Candlemas (Mass of candles) is the English name for the day when Christ was presented in the temple; it is celebrated on Feb. 2. It became a tradition to bless candles on this day. Another is Childermas (Mass of children), celebrated on Dec. 28. This day marks the sad event by which Herod sought to kill Jesus by having the children of Bethlehem slaughtered. The question is, how come X has been used to abbreviate Christ? Actually, the English word Christ comes from the Greek CristoV (Kristos).
X is the first letter of the Greek word Christ and has historically served as an abbreviation. One of the more famous symbols for Christ has been the chi-rho, which is an interlocking of the first two letters of the word Christ: X (chi) and P (rho). As it turns out, possibly to the disappointment of the secularists, the abbreviation Xmas does not strip Christmas of its meaning, but rather, it points toward a more profound and ancient understanding of the holiday.
So then, how can we keep the X in Xmas? Here are three simple suggestions:
1. Celebrate the entire holiday. Two years ago, I spent Christmas at a house where all of the decorations were taken down and put away by noon on Dec. 26. How many days has Christmas traditionally been celebrated? We know the song, but we have forgotten the season. Christmas is supposed to be celebrated from December 25 until January 6, the Epiphany; 12 days.Unfortunately, Americans have made the period between Thanksgiving and the Nativity into the Christmas season.While Wal-Mart needs to start getting ready for Valentine’s Day, Christians ought to celebrate the whole season of Christmas.
2. Buy the right stamp. The U.S. Postal service every year offers a stamp of the Madonna and Child. Additionally, they offer a variety of stamps featuring Christmas trees, Santa, candy canes, etc. Christians ought to buy the stamp that points to the “reason for the season.” This concept should not be limited only to stamps. While trees, Santa, and candy canes are by no means wrong to use as decorations, it is very easy for the entirety of one’s decorations to be comprised of them. A nice Nativity set should serve as the centerpiece for all seasonal decor.
3. Make merry. At Christmas, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus Christ, and we express our longing for his second coming. These days are cause for joy. The light of the world has come; we ought to express our happiness. Too often, the emotions of Christmas are attached to how much we like our gifts or how much praise our decorations receive, forgetting that we have already received the greatest gift, a savior.