Christmas is fast approaching, and it is full of tiny intellectual land mines like this one. For some people, seeing Christmas written as "X-Mas" gets them upset because it "takes the Christ out of Christmas." Now, I'm all about a soapbox about the co-opting of our sacred holidays by marketers selling junk, but about X-mas? I love it!
I love it because it gives me an opportunity to teach. As it turns out, writing X-mas is just as faithful as writing Christmas.
Of course, most of the people you know are fluent in the particular dialect called Koine Greek that the New Testament is written in, but in case you missed that class in high school, let me refresh your memory. The greek word for Christ that is pronounced Christos begins with the greek letter Chi. That first letter eventually came to be used as a common abbreviation for the word and ultimately inspire a host of Christian number stickers and t-shirts when it was added to several other abbreviated titles for Jesus and formed into an anagram that spelled the word fish.
That word, pronounced “ichthus,” is the one that is often written inside that silver fish emblem that Christians put on the back of their cars. Yes, it is kind of odd, and a little redundant, to have the word fish inside a fish symbol, but when you realize that it means more most people overlook the design faux pas. What does it mean? I thought you’d never ask! The letters in the anagram stand for Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior with our stout little Chi standing in for “Christ” as usual. What does all of that have to do with X-mas? Everything!
If you had to memorize the greek alphabet you may already be a step ahead of me. The letter Chi in greek looks like the English letter “X.” Which means that you can abbreviate the word Christ by putting the letter “X” in your sermon notes. It also means that the people who began using X-mas were being very responsible as X-mas doesn’t “take the Christ out of Christmas” at all. It just abbreviates Christ with an abbreviation that many of the people complaining about the use of X-mas have stuck to the back of their car.
Lest you think this is a recent development by our secular society to compromise the focus on Christ, the first use of this abbreviation, according to the OED was in 1755. The term continued being used by Lord Byron, Samuel Coleridge and Lewis Carroll.
All of that is to say that Christmas is full of opportunities to question and learn more about faith, and as far as I'm concerned, the only thing that "takes Christ out of Christmas" is when Christians allow themselves to forsake growing closer to God in order to get a 3% discount on all their gifts and hand address all 150 Christmas cards.
To help you out with that, I have written a new ebook that explores the history, science, and archaeology of angels, Santa, the manger, wise men, and those pesky pagan roots of our holy season. It's short enough to finish by Christmas if you just read in the checkout lines. It's called Investigating Christmas. I hope it helps you grow closer to God this Christmas. It's available on Kindle and in Print on Amazon.