Last Friday night I went to a sizeable seeker-sensitive church which was hosting an elaborate “Journey to Bethlehem.” It was a really impressive set up. Groups of a couple dozen each would be lead on a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by a fictitious Jewish man and his wife and daughter. Along the way were intimidating Roman soldiers (some on horseback), lots of sheep, goats, ponies and even camels on hand. We were even held up by bandits on the road before we reached our destination: the stable offered by the keeper of the already booked “Bethlehem Inn.”
So many people turned out this year to go on the journey, that before we began, we spent a good 30-45 minutes being entertained in the sanctuary of the church–which I suppose they prefer to call the worship center. We enjoyed a Christmas version of “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” a couple of puppet shows, and a few videos. One of the videos was a kind of spoof of a football player who wanted to make sure everyone around him kept Christ in Christmas–if they didn’t, he’d tackle them! It was a funny video. However, as usual, one of the football players’ poor victims was sporting the widely misunderstood holiday abbreviation, “Xmas.” She got tackled. How many times per Christmas season do you hear Christians around you complain whenever they see or hear someone use the word “Xmas”? I’ve personally lost count.
Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language has this short and helpful explanation. Among other uses of the the letter x, it reads, “As an abbreviation, X. stands for Christ, as in Xn. Christian; Xm. Christmas.” Why, you ask, does x stand for Christ? The letter x is not only the third from the last letter of the English alphabet, it is also the Greek letter, chi (pronounced “key”), which corresponds to the English “ch.” Chi is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Yes, Virginia, it is that simple. Here’s a simple Greek alphabet for your orientation.
If you’ve ever gotten nervous or felt someone was demeaning Christ by using the abbreviation “Xmas,” may I be the first to reassure you that such is not the case. Wikipedia has a very informative entry about the history of the use of Xmas, as well as the How Stuff Works website. Learn it, love it, live it.