The Word — Keeping ‘X’ in ‘Christmas’

Published 3:09 pm Friday, December 23, 2022

Last week, I was traveling to see family with my wife and children. As we went along, we commented on the Christmas lights we saw and the greenery that adorned many businesses and homes. At one point, we passed a church, I don’t remember which one, and on the sign out front was a marquee that read, “Keep Christ in X-mas.”

That sign got me thinking.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard similar sentiments. ‘X-mas’ is often seen as an attempt by secular culture to delegitimize the religious holiday that is Christmas. Pastors, Sunday school teachers, and other Christians in public positions fire up lots of faithful churchgoers by loudly speaking out in frustration whenever the abbreviation appears. In some ways, how you write ‘Christmas’ becomes a litmus test for how religious you are.

But what if ‘X-mas’ is about something else altogether, and what if saying ‘Merry X-mas’ is one of the best ways to honor Jesus on the day commemorating his birth?

In the world of the early church, there was of course no English language. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the first letter of the Greek title ‘Christ’ (a religious-political term meaning ‘Messiah’ or ‘Anointed One’) was the Greek letter chi. Which, when capitalized and written out, looks like the English letter X.

From early in the Christian movement, the letter ‘X’ has been used as a shorthand for the messianic title of Jesus, ‘Christ.’ An article in Christianity Today from 2018 points out that: shortening ‘Christ’ to ‘X’ as an abbreviation appears in some early manuscript copies of the New Testament; Emperor Constantine saw a vision telling him to put the first two letters of the word for Christ, chi-rho (XP) on the shields of his armies; and Anglo-Saxon scribes wrote about ‘XPmas’ as early as AD 1021. As the Catholic blog Aleteia reminded us in a post on December 2, 2021, “The X in ‘Xmas’ has literally meant Christ since the very inception of Christianity.”

So, perhaps instead of worrying about taking the X out of Xmas, we would do better to wonder if we are keeping the X in Christmas. For far too many people, sometimes including us preachers, Christmas becomes much more about the festivities and the fun and the family gatherings than it is about the Christ at the center of it. However we spell it, Christmas has become less about Jesus and more about us.

Perhaps seeing the X in Xmas will jar us back to the true meaning of Christmas. Are we keeping Jesus at the center of our celebration this year? Are we living out the values of the child in the manger – love, peace, grace, and forgiveness chief among them – in our daily lives? Are we focused on becoming more like Christ?

This year, let’s keep X in Christmas!

Rev. Dr. J. Adam Tyler is the Senior Pastor for Farmville Baptist Church and he can be reached by email at pastor@farmvillebaptist.org.