I have recently seen several complaints at the use of ‘Xmas’ instead of Christmas. According to these protests there is a big conspiracy to remove Christ from the celebration and just put an X – that symbol often used in algebra to refer to unknown quantities. Therefore using Xmas reduces Christ to an unknown quantity soon to be eliminated from the equation altogether. This is an interesting charge even though most people I know use Xmas synonymously with Christmas. This trend is however not new since the name of Christ, Christos (CristoV) in Greek, has been abbreviated with either the first letter or the first two letters chi (C) and rho (r) since ancient times.
The abbreviations were not without reason according to the historians. The Christian church was under persecution in the early Roman Empire and they thus devised an undercover means of marking the lots, tombs and meeting places of Christians. In fact the use of the fish as a Christian symbol, made popular in North America and Europe in the past few decades dates back to this early period. The term for fish in Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) is Ichthus (IcquV – lower case) or (ICQUS – upper case). Each letter of this word represents the names or titles of Jesus.
IesouV (Jesus) CristoV (Christ) Qeou (God’s) UioV (Son) Swthr (Savior). It began first to be represented as a wheel with the letters overlapping as shown in this picture of inscriptions from the ruins of Ephesus. It was eventually represented by the simple fish symbol. Christians would draw one arc when they met another suspected believer and if the person was one he would draw the second arc of the ichthus in the sand completing the symbol.
So the abbreviations were used from centuries ago by believers who were arguably more devout than many of us today. I have no problems with writing Xmas if the person means Christmas. I also do not think it devalues the meaning of Christmas. However I agree that there is a trend towards the elimination of Christ from Christmas. But one can retain the full name of Christ (shunning the X) and still be complicit in this. I think what does devalues the meaning of Christmas is when we make it all about Christmas presents, Christmas shopping, Christmas trees, Christmas lights and Christmas extravagance. Unfortunately that can be done by Christians who use the complete terminology and shun the abbreviations. ( I will admit it, I was tempted to abbreviate in the line above – would have saved 25 letters)
We remove Christ from Xmas when we help children to think that the main thing about Christmas is the opening and unwrapping of the presents under the tree ignoring the opportunity to teach them about God’s present wrapped in human flesh who was eventually to die on a tree. Christmas is when we remember the birth of the savior. The gospel is embedded in the Christmas story for a savior is needed only by sinners. When the angels appeared to the shepherds in a blaze of divine glory, they were frightened. They had reason to be – the appearance of the holy God to sinners could mean bad news. Fortunately the angel bore good news – the good news of Christmas that God had sent a savior to solve our sin problem. (Luke 2) The story of Christmas does not hang in a vacuum – we can only understand the good news when we recognize the problem of man beginning in Genesis and this good news makes complete sense we recognize how that baby eventually died for us on Calvary. The good news of Christmas is consummated every time someone turns to Christ for salvation. The message of Xmas is the message of the gospel and we do more to deny Christ when we celebrate Christmas without giving thought to its meaning.
Give me Christmas or Xmas, I’d take either as long as we leave Christ at the center.