Thursday, December 8, 2011

Xmas Wars!

Ah, it is that time of year again ... Time for the Christmas Wars. An amazing battle, in which it appears only one side shows up to fight with unseen, unknown opponents.
"They are taking the Christ out of Christmas!"
"Don't shop at stores that X out Christ!"
This post is not about the general culture of "culture wars" that undergirds this annual conflict. Suffice it to say that we are wishing people "Happy Holidays" -- after all, it's not Christmas until the 25th, and we are busy observing Advent.

But, on a character-limited platform like twitter and with a holiday related account, it was inevitable that someone would bring up our use of the abbreviation "Xmas." Yes, we use it. With frequency, and without apology. And, well, we're pretty sure that we are in favor of a Xmas that has something to Jesus.

Note the abbreviated captions
above this icon
In the first century world in which the Christian church emerged, literacy was not widespread in the population. Unless your vocation required it - or you came from a wealthy enough family to afford an education - chances are you would not read. And so abbreviations were quite common. We're familiar with some of these. Ever see a cross in the sanctuary with the letters INRI? Perfect example. An abbreviation for "Jesus of Nazarus, King of the Jews," the charge which Pilate had nailed above Jesus cross. Notice: this abbreviation - still common in the worship space of churches today! - uses simply the first letter of each word.

Or another: The Jesus fish. The Jesus fish was used to mark early Christian worship spaces. Why a fish? Because, by abbreviating the phrase using the first letter of each word, the fish (ἰχθύος / IXTHUS) meant "Jesus Christ: God's Son, Savior." Yup. Just the first letters. And how did they represent the word "Christ"? A great big X.

Which brings us to Xmas. The one we worship, the one whose nativity we celebrate, is Ἰησοῦς Χριστός. There it is again, that great big X. The Greek letter "chi," used for centuries to represent Christ. We are not "X-ing out Christ." We are not removing Jesus from anything. We are following a long and venerable tradition of using the letter chi to represent the title Christ.

Plus, it uses five fewer characters on twitter, so there's that.


  1. i make this same argument all the time, because its true. good for you and merry Xmas.

  2. Great post! I run a big Christmas info site and get several 'war on Christmas' email rants a year, even though I explain 'the real meaning of X' on the site!

    So thanks for this, another great place I can direct people to, so they can be educated!!!