Keeping the “X” in Xmas: it’s not some secular conspiracy

Well folks, it’s that time of year again.

Soon our stockings will be hung by the chimney with care (something the Corey family did the day before Thanksgiving), gifts will be wrapped and placed beneath the tree, Christmas cheer will fill the air, and our Facebook news feeds will begin to be clogged with posts about “Keeping Christ in Christmas”.

Ugh. It happens every year.

This year, it looks like even Uncle Si is getting in on the action.

Back in the day, I too would recoil whenever I saw Christmas written as “Xmas”.

How dare those godless atheists try to take the baby Jesus out of my manger, and block out the word Christ with a big, black, X… right?

Wrong.

Turns out, using the phrase “Xmas” instead of writing “Christmas” isn’t some conspiracy by our secular humanist neighbors to remove Christ from Christmas.

Yet every year, we Christians push back in the nonexistent war against Christmas and drive a wedge further between ourselves and the neighbors who Jesus has called us to radically love.  The irony is that secular humanists, atheists, and anyone else we want to pin this on, had nothing to do with removing Christ from Christmas.

Writing Christmas as Xmas, as it turns out, is part of the historic Christian tradition.

Yet, those who benefit from the annual war on Christmas are content to allow well meaning but horribly misinformed Christians think that there is some secular conspiracy to remove the name of Christ from the word Christmas.

Well, there isn’t. Allow me to explain:

As shocking as this may be for some to realize, the Bible wasn’t written in English. The New Testament is written in Koine Greek, and the Greek word for Christ is… get ready…

Χριστος

 See where I’m heading with this yet?

In Greek, the first letter for the name of Christ is X. Instead of always writing the full name Χριστος, we see in early Christian history a trend to abbreviate Χριστος as simply Χ. As Greg Carey, Professor of the New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary writes:

“Early manuscripts of the Greek New Testament dating to the third and fourth centuries used “X” as an abbreviation for Christ…The abbreviation helped manuscript writers fit more words on a page, reducing the time and cost of producing the texts…”

Ouch. So, not only are my atheist friends not to blame for the substitution of X for Christ, we actually find that it’s a tradition dating all the way back to the New Testament itself?

It might be time to insert a quick apology into some of our Christmas cards.

Furthermore, the trend of writing Christmas as Xmas is hardly anything new or born out of a secular culture– this tradition dates back to the 12th Century.

In fact, we even have affirmation of the term Xmas in the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (certainly a source that would denounce the term if it were an attempt to “remove Christ from Christmas”), as seen here:

I think the perceived war on Christmas is often a case of mistaken identity that can be easily fixed with a little knowledge and a heart that chooses to believe the best in others. When we see Xmas instead of Christmas, let us remember that Xmas is actually part of Christian tradition. When people wish us a “Happy Holidays” let us choose to believe they are actually wishing us well during this time of year instead of assuming they’re part of some secular conspiracy to kick the baby Jesus out of the manger and into the straw.

The holiday season provides us a special opportunity to show our neighbors cheer and goodwill– so let us start doing that by knocking off the “Keep Christ in Christmas” stuff, because no one– not even our atheist friends– is trying to rewrite the term to be absent the baby this holiday is named after.

This Xmas season, may you be full of peace and goodwill towards those around you, with whom God’s favour rests… and may we be completely fine if some people want to keep X in Xmas!

About Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is currently a 3rd year Doctor of Missiology student (a subset of practical theology) at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore. He is also a contributor for Time, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. Ben is also co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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