xmas exchange

by Zach Kincaid

I read curiously the exchange below. It was posted on the faculty/staff sale list at the state university where I work.

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Just in time for Xmas. 2003 XR 50 Motorcycle. Excellent condition. Pictures Available. Great Starter bike. Reduced to $600.00

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Hey Folks, Just a Friendly Reminder. There is no Xmas. X is a Cross...Crossmas? No. Let us not forget the REASON for the SEASON, CHRIST...A gift FREEly given...CHRISTMAS! Please accept this with the love that it is given!

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Since this is a list at a public university, I feel it should be pointed out that there is an historically valid reason for using the term "x-mas." The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) explains (as do many other sources) that in Greek (the language of the New Testament), the letter chi (X) is the first letter of Christ's name. The letter X was used as an abbreviation for Christ by most learned people beginning in the 16th century.

So, "X-mas" as an abbreviation for Christmas is a scholarly convention of learned Christians -- not a modern convention meant to demean the holiday. There is nothing sacrilegious about "X-mas" -- though there are many who don't understand this history but prefer the term because it seems more inclusive.

Also, the assumption that Christ is the "reason for the season" is biased and historically limited. Most evidence suggests that the winter solstice has been celebrated by people all over Europe (and elsewhere) since before Christ's time. In fact, many people believe that the date we choose to celebrate Christ's birth is borrowed from pagan times. There is no conclusive Biblical or historical evidence for Christ's actual birth date, but many believe the evidence that can be gleaned would put the likely date in late summer or early fall. The late December date had previously been celebrated as the birth date of Mithras and was a major Roman holiday known as Saturnalia, as well as being a solstice celebration elsewhere in Europe. It was not until the 4th century of the Common Era (C.E.) that the Church set an official date to celebrate Christ's birth on Dec. 25, and many parts of Europe did not adopt this date and celebration until much later -- around 800 - 1,000 years ago. Many of the symbols and practices associated with the holiday show pagan origins (e.g. holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule logs, the giving of gifts, decorated evergreen trees, magical reindeer, etc.). It was also a practice of the Church (and even decreed as policy by some popes) to allow pagan practices and holidays to continue being practiced (because it made it easier to convert people), as long as they were reconsecrated as Christian.

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The quality of my faith demands that I use the word "Christmas" and for me, Christ is the reason for the season. I have many friends all over the US of different spiritual/religious beliefs - including Wiccan. They allow me to believe as I choose and I return the same pruivilege to them. Knock it off. This is not the proper forum for this anyway.

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The list is for selling things and if happens that I type too fast, misuse a letter, or misspell a word I don't want to fear that my character is being judged by other listers. And worse yet, I might not sell my item! Lord knows to a miser and curmudgeon such as me, that would be true misery.

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Mary is absolutely right, linguistically speaking. The 'x' is not to shorten the word 'Christ', but was in fact the first origination of the sound and letter symbol of the first sound of the word. It wasn't pronounced 'eks', but sounded more like what one does when starting to vomit, which is impossible to put in our current Present-Day English alphabet. If you're familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, (the IPA) you can find a symbol which represent(s)(ed) this sound. This also explains why the work 'knight' is spelled like it is. The Monty Python guys were correct in their pronunciation of the word, which, again, is impossible to create here. The language has changed and we've lost sounds...so be it. We've also gained things like 'like' (used in every other word of my students' conversations).

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On a similar note, I began brainstorming with a colleague about some holiday traditions that might be helpful. How about incorporating a Kwanzaa Claus at your tree’s top? That would give a tinge of diversity and the sweetness of a 1960s made up holiday and an ancient one. Or, consider celebrating Muhammadas (maybe it’s Allahmas... the “all” might work to our advantage). Maybe Universal Unknownamas for a neutral look upward toward a higher being. I still like “Festivas for the rest of us” or the idea that Hanukkah Harry may fill in for Santa if he’s under the weather.

It’s returns us to the divisiveness of Christ. I wonder sometimes if it’s actually his story or the church’s story that causes the scandal. Perhaps it’s both. I’d like to think it’s his story and the church is caught up in it, but it’s likely something less sincere and more greedy.

(December 2007)