Should Christians reject the use of Xmas?
It’s that time of year when “Christmas cheer is sung aloud for all to hear!” Fir trees are being purchased left and right, and every shop already seems to be struggling to keep holiday lighting in stock. But, there’s a different problem.
Across our social media feeds and in countless commercials, the classic greeting “Merry Christmas!” has been replaced with a sterile “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” It can feel like the true cause for celebration, Jesus’ birth, is being intentionally hidden or overlooked.
One prime example of this is the replacement of the word Christmas with the abbreviation, “Xmas.” It almost seems like a textbook example of literally taking “Christ” out of Christmas! But there’s a catch: the surprising history and true meaning of Xmas do not reveal some sinister secular scheme to scrub Christmas of Baby Jesus. Rather, the true meaning of Xmas invites us all to search our own hearts and to examine who (or what) is really receiving our worship.
The True Meaning of Xmas
The New Testament was not written in English but in Greek. Our English word “Christ” comes from the Greek word Χριστός (pronounced “Christos”), which means Messiah or Anointed One. The Greek letter Chi (Χ) is roughly equal to our English letter “X.”
The surprising history and true meaning of Xmas do not reveal some sinister secular scheme to scrub Christmas of Baby Jesus.
In fact, Christ is abbreviated as ΧΣ in the New Testament manuscripts themselves. This is an example of nomina sacra, a long scribal tradition of abbreviating sacred names. There are examples of different forms of “Xmas” going as far back as 1021 AD. So, for literally 1,000 years, Christians have used this shorthand to represent the name of Christ!
The use of Xmas is not a corporate conspiracy cooked up by marketing executives to remove the religious roots of our most beloved holiday. But this issue invites us all, Christian or not, to take a closer look at what we worship.
The Real Threat to Xmas
Materialism and greed are a greater threat to us taking Christ out of Christmas than the use of Xmas. The Puritans were so bothered by the idolatry that had crept into Christmas that they banned the holiday in some of their first colonies. Rather than enforcing our specific way of celebrating on others, we should follow the psalmist’s prayer from Psalm 139:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.” —Psalm 139:23-24 NIV
There are real places in this world where worshipping Jesus Christ is met with ridicule or even death. As disciples of Jesus, we don’t wage war through retaliation. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
If we find our culture drifting away from Jesus as the focus of Christmas, a better response may be to follow the examples of the shepherds at the first Christmas: “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18).