Saturday, December 4, 2010

Keeping X in Xmas

Surprised at my title, "Keeping X in Xmas"?

Many statements come out this time of year by evangelical Christians decrying the use of the abbreviation "Xmas". They proclaim our need to "keep Christ in Christmas" and not "X him out". I do understand the desire to keep Christmas faithful to the true reason for the season, of course.

But it's a fairly common abbreviation that you can find on the storage boxes in my attic. Is it unfaithful? Should it be on the forefront of culture wars to keep Christ out of the celebration?

Actually, no. There's a huge misunderstanding about the etymology of this abbreviation that could help us learn about our faith heritage. The use of "Xmas" a remnant of a beautiful tradition in the ancient art of Christianity which is dear to our faith.

Beginning with the ancient church, including times of persecution when Christians met in the catacombs and other secret places, the use of the Greek letter X (pronounced chi in the original Greek) was used to represent Christ because it was the first letter in the Greek word Christos, or Christ. It became a sort of secret symbol, not unlike the use of the fish, the ichthus, in the ancient church to represent the Christian faith. Writing "Xmas" on a box is no more unfaithful than putting the symbol of the fish on the bumper of your car.

You can find remnants of this tradition in almost any sanctuary today. Christmon trees, paraments, and the like will employ the X as a decorative remnant of this tradition in ancient Christian art. Consider the XP (chi rho) on the paraments of many pulpits.

Use of the X in the abbreviation Xmas is not "x-ing out Christ." On the contrary, one could look at it as a statement of faith. Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. As I tell my confirmands every year, Christ is not Jesus' last name. It's his divine title. It means that he is not only the human Jesus who walked the earth. He is the anointed one, the Messiah.

For additional explanation about this, see a good article on the use of Xmas on wikipedia. Here is a gospel cover from approximately 700 A.D. reflecting the ancient use of this symbol of faith.