On my way back from one of my schools this morning I spotted this sign…
My first thought was, “Oh boy, yet another pastor who is ignorant of church history, and who buys into that ‘War on Christmas’ junk.” About.com gives a nice concise description of how the phrase “Xmas” came to be.
It is said that when the Emperor Constantine had his great vision that caused him to convert to Christianity, he saw the Greek letters Chi and Rho intertwined. Chi is written as an ‘X’ and Rho is written as a ‘P’, but they are the first two letters of the Greek word Christ ‘savior’. ‘XP’ is sometimes used to stand for Christ. Sometimes X is used alone. This is the case in the Chi (X) abbreviation for Christ in Xmas. Thus, Xmas is not directly a way of secularizing the holiday, but since ‘X’ is not Chi in English, we read the word as X-mas and see no connection with Christ.
In those very early days printing and writing was an expensive endeavor, so abbreviations were often used as a cost-cutting measure. Regardless, the X stood for Christ, and is actually closely related to the little fish symbols seen on many Christian’s cars today. The letters for “fish” in Greek (ixthus, or icthus as it is pronounced today) formed an acrostic meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” The letter “I” was used in place of “J” for Jesus. The second letter, the “X”, stood for Christ, and the traditional icthus symbol used the fish’s tail to form the “X”, emphasizing the word Christ. In this case, use of the icthus was meant to convey secrecy, rather than save printing costs.
The last sentence from About.com’s comments get to the heart of the matter. Those of us who don’t speak Greek and don’t know the history of Constantine don’t see the connection between Christ and the letter X, so many find “Xmas” offensive. It’s certainly not the first time a symbol’s meaning has been altered. The swastika was originally an ancient Sanskrit symbol, which to Hindus meant any lucky or auspicious object. Its use by the Nazi’s changed its meaning to something abhorrent. Likewise, the Confederate Battle Flag may have stood for state’s rights and Southern heritage at one time, but it’s use by racists and the KKK have made it offense to most today. Society tends toward the latest, most current meaning of a symbol or phrase.
Some like to pick and choose which meaning to use, whether the current or historic. I saw a bumper sticker with a rebel flag that said, “If this offends you, you need a history lesson.” I would contend that the same could be said for those that are offended by the term “Xmas.” However, here in the South it’s been my experience that those that are offended by Xmas are often the ones quick to defend the rebel flag. I can’t help but laugh at both the irony and the ignorance.
[tags]xmas, War on Christmas, symbols, Confederate flag[/tags]