Sunday, 17 December 2017

Recognising Christ in "Xmas"

As always happens this time of year, my news feed on FaceBook is showing a growing number of the tedious posts warning of something they call a "War on Christmas". 

Because some people use terms such as "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas" at the time of year, a few politicians and media people (generally on the starboard side of politics) act really upset as if it's some slight on Christianity or something like that.  (The amusing thing about this, as well, is how rarely will we find many of those who make a fuss about the "War on Christmas" actually showing up at church.)

Speaking as a practicing, worshipping Christian who celebrates both the Churches' Christ-Mass and the culture's Christmas with enthusiasm, I really can't work up any enthusiasm for getting upset over Happy Holidays or Seasons' Greetings.  I use these greetings myself, particularly when greeting friends who aren't worshippers but who nevertheless don't go quite so far as to tick the "No Religion" box on the census.  I intend to keep on doing so.  Those who object to my doing so need to get over themselves, and do so quickly. 

The problem is not so much that the politicians and media types bang on about the "War on Christmas".  The real problem is that a lot of other people believe them.  The reality is, the only time Christmas was ever banned in a western country it wasn't banned by rapid secularists, or by multicultural enthusiasts, or by PC nerds such as myself.  Christmas was banned in 17th century England when Oliver Cromwell was the dictator.  Christmas wasn't banned by Cromwell because of its religious character, it was banned because Cromwell and the Puritans felt that (because of all the festivity) Christmas wasn't religious enough for them.  (As we all know, there isn't a lot of "fun" in fundamentalism.)  While the laws against Christmas were repealed soon after Cromwell's death, the Brits really got out of the Christmas habit until the mid-19th century.  (By the way, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a great flick.)

But, back to the supposed "War on Christmas", one of the things that exercises some people is when Christmas is occasionally abbreviated as Xmas.  Now, as I'm about to refer not only to a language other than English, but to an ancient one at that, I need to issue a "pedantry alert" here.  (Please don't say you weren't warned.)

In Greek, the language in which the New Testament was first written, the word for Christ is Christos.  It begins with the Greek letter chi, which looks like an X in a western alphabet.  Using X (or sometimes Xt) as an abbreviation for Christ was a long-standing practice during the years when Christian documents existed as hand-copied manuscripts.  These abbreviations were normally made by the pious monks whose job was to make fresh copies of the sacred writings.  In my own student notes from theological seminary, there are many examples of such abbreviations as Xt (Christ), Xn (Christian), Xty (Christianity).  For a person who needs to write quickly, or who needs to fit the word "Christmas" into a small space, Xmas is an accepted short form of Christmas.

Now, when you see Xmas written, don't pronounce it as Exmas.  It was never intended that way.  Pronounce the word as Christmas, as if it's written out in full. 

There are other abbreviations that work that way.  If you see Mr. or Dr., you'll read it as Mister or Doctor, not Murrh or Durrh.  If you see Pty. Ltd. at the end of a company's name, you'll read Proprietary Limited, and will only read it as "Pitty Litted" if you're being funny. 

Similarly, Xmas is read as Christmas, not as Exmas.  You may want to say "Exmas" if you're trying to be deliberately funny, but remember, there are some seriously humourless people within the crowd who bang on about the "War on Christmas" and get their knickers in a knot about "Xmas".  (They rarely "get" jokes, so they probably won't "get" yours. )

Anyway, whether your preferred greeting at this time of year is Bless├ęd Christ-Mass, Chag Hanukkah Sameach, Happy Holidays, or anything in between, have a good one. 
And, if you'd like some of my reflections on Advent and Christmas sitting on your bookshelf as well as on your computer, you may want to buy my book  Christmas Lost and Christmas Regained from Amazon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.