Hung from glittering banners and crammed onto highway billboards, “Merry Xmas” is a common sight. And some Christians don’t like it. Rather than “Christmas” abbreviated, the use of “Xmas” is viewed as yet another attempt to minimize or even eliminate Christ from Christmas.
Consequently, some Christians have gone on the offensive. When business owners, in an effort to fit “Merry Christmas” across their store windows shorten it to “Merry Xmas”, they receive complaints. Using “Xmas” is viewed as an agenda-driven rejection of Jesus, the main character of Christmas.
It isn’t. And I’d like to set the record straight.
The “X” in “Xmas” is simply an abbreviation for “Christ.” Perhaps a little language lesson would be helpful. “X” is the first letter of the Greek word “Christ” and has been the primary initial for Christ since the birth of Christianity. Stories have been told of how the Greek word for fish (IXTHUS) became code for basic Christian confession; each letter of the word “IXTHUS” stood as first letter of each word in the phrase “Jesus Christ God’s Son is the Saviour.” And what did the “X” in the “IXTHUS” stand for? Yep, the “X” stood for “Christ”. Another example is the familiar “Xp” (Chi Rho) that has been a symbol for Christ for over a thousand years. The use of “Xmas” is a natural extension of this established practice, coming into literature over four hundred years ago.
Rather than seeing “Xmas” as the removal or substitution of Jesus, I see it as another example of his pervasive presence. Jesus is everywhere, even when his presence is more hidden or subtle. And that’s the Christmas story, isn’t it? Jesus’ birth was hidden from the eyes of the world, made known only to a precious few. In the secrecy of that stable, God, the World-Lover, gave his most precious gift to be the World’s Light. And Jesus, living, dying and rising again in obscurity, became known to the rest of the world only as his hidden story was made known through eyewitnesses. His story continues to be retold today, both boldly and incognito.
I find “Xmas” encouraging. Rather than a derisive minimization, “Xmas” expresses a willingness to include Christ in the season even when space is limited. Like the infamous innkeeper in an overbooked Bethlehem, “Xmas” reminds us that though Jesus may at times be hidden, he is always present.
“Jesus is the reason for the season”, as the common jingle goes. And his presence is here, proclaimed in longhand or short, pointing us toward the generosity of the God who sent his Son Jesus as his life-changing gift to all.
So, the next time you see a Merry Xmas, remember that X marks the spot for Christ. And maybe say thank you to the business owner who chose to keep Christ in Christmas.
Note: This post was originally written for publication in the Creston Valley Advance.