20091226

Happy Xmas

Well another Christmas season come and gone. And with it the echoes of controversy and silliness that otherwise informed people get wrapped up with.

First is the “Xmas” controversy. Some bad preaching fueled by ignorance and a “sky is falling” mood has contributed to this one. “Xmas” is an abbreviation for “Christmas.” This is because the English “X” most closely resembles the Greek letter ‘chi.’ Chi, for millennia, has been a God-honoring abbreviation for “Christ.” In the same way, Bible students can use “Xn” for “Christian,” “Xnty” for “Christianity,” or even “Xndm” for “Christendom.” As such, English believers have used their own letter, “X” for “Christ” for hundreds of years.
Only recently, with the increasing ignorance of all things older than one’s lifetime, have silly preachers claimed that “Xmas” is an attempt to ‘take the Christ from Christmas.” Leveraging on the use of the letter ‘x’ to signify the unknown in high-school math and the use of ‘x’ in popular culture to signify mystery, as well as a desire to find all kinds of reasons why the world is going to Hell in a Handbasket, have conspired to create the completely unwarranted objection to using Xmas for Christmas. “Xmas” as an abbreviation for “Christmas” dates from at least the 1500’s – far before any attempt by postmodernists, New Atheists, or even the concept of the secular state.
What is odd is that people object to the use of the English letter, ‘x’ for “Christ,” but don’t bat an eye at the rest of the word, “mas.” “Christ-mas” is derived from the phrase, “Christ’s Mass.” The word first hit the scene in about 1038. And for those people very much in the Protestant camp, they get their drawers in a knot about abbreviating “X” for Christ but are happy to encourage the concept of the Roman Mass. Go figure.
What causes me befuddlement is that otherwise well-educated Christians are perfectly willing to embrace willful ignorance because one day a bad preacher compellingly told them a historical falsehood.

On to the next controversy – one that is more “popular.” This is the “Merry Christmas” verses “Happy Holidays” greeting controversy. This is along the lines of the “He’s the Reason for the Season” catch-phrase. In fact, the birth of Jesus is not completely the reason for the season. I’ve mentioned this before (http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/2008/12/reason-for-season.html), but the fact is that there were pagan Winter Party seasons long before our Lord was born.
At the end of my thinking on this, I am resigned to recognize that our society confounds the pagan and Christian meaning of “Christmas.” Frankly, I appreciate the honesty of secular and pagan people to stop calling what they do during this time of the year, “Christmas.” I don’t like that the excesses and rowdy revelry are associated with Jesus. They still don’t get the idea of “holiday,” of course ("holiday" means "holy day"). But if this is merely a “Happy Holiday” for them, fine. It still – very much – is about Christ to me.

Let me take that “Happy Holidays v. Merry Christmas” controversy a step further. I believe that it was the redeeming and lifting effect of the gospel on the pagan-infested roots of Western Civilization that changed the course of the Winter Party season into the Christmas season. But not completely – there are still plenty of pagan influences. It is expected, within ‘Christian’ nations to not only celebrate the birth of Jesus, but also to have a rowdy ‘good time.’ That is, to be “merry.”
Let me pull back a bit. In the U.S., it is customary to wish each other a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” My time in the U.K. taught me another custom. There, people say it ‘backwards;’ they wish each other a “Happy Christmas and Merry New Year.” Now why the switch as the sentiment crossed The Pond is unknown to me, but I have pondered on the difference of meaning between the words “merry” and “happy.” To most, the words are exactly the same and so it’s a distinction without a difference. But the words are different and carry different meanings. Currently, “merry” means “full of or showing lively cheerfulness or enjoyment;” while “happy” means “feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or joy.” When *I* think of the two words in connection with Christmas, I associate “merry” with the party stuff, while I associate “happy” with the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” stuff.
So I’m adopting the British practice of wishing people a “Happy Christmas.” Now, here’s what I’m NOT going to do. I’m NOT going to castigate, insult, or take exaggerated offense if other Christians continue to use the phrase “Merry Christmas.” Additionally, I’m not going to think less of them privately. I am merely going to make the shift myself and see what happens.
So “Happy Christmas” to my Jesus-following friends! “Merry Party-time” to my pagan friends (hoping they’ll come to their senses about Jesus), and may this next year be a time of peace, prosperity, and health because of the grace of God in our lives.

2 comments:

Dave said...

Eric,

Excellent post. Well said.

It's very important for believers to be keenly aware of their own biases and inconsistencies that in combination often lead to both legalistic and judgmental ways of thinking and acting.

I think I'm going to develop my own post on this theme - probably quoting large sections of yours on my own ministry blog. (and I will be careful to give you the credit).

Dave James (Another 50+ times around the sun, second-vocation, now full-time-ministry kind-of-guy)
The Alliance for Biblical Integrity
www.biblicalintegrity.org

Reverend Ref + said...

Just was perusing through a variety of blogs and stumbled across this one. You have some good thoughts about Christmas, but there is one point I would disagree with:

"Well another Christmas season come and gone."

Today being December 29 is actually the fifth day of the Christmas Season. That is, the 12 Days of Christmas begin on December 25 and run through January 5. This produces the tradition of Twelfth Night and leads up to January 6, or the Day of Epiphany, wherein the Church celebrates the arrival of the Magi/Wise Men -- another traditional time of gift giving.

So . . . Merry Christmas.