Putting the “X” Back in Christmas

It is rare that I get to speak to you so close, and prior to the Christmas holiday. I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a happy holiday season and thank you for your support and encouragement. Many thanks to my editor, Shawn, for her patience and good humor. Particular thanks to my wife, Tracey, for her support and forbearance when it’s time to write, and for making the best coffee, ever.

In a way, it feels like we just had Christmas, and the last one seemed like a continuation of the one before that: a brief pause in the long grinding slow motion train wreck emergency of the plague years.

Of course, that’s just a secular interpretation of time. It’s the official version. It’s the trending version. It’s what you get when you allow the pixel world, the political world and the forces of buy-one-get-one-free to direct your thinking and feeling.

Will I be able to buy all the gifts I want this year? Will my packages make it there on time? Will there be enough toilet paper and cream cheese on the shelves this winter? Is Santa Claus a symbol of white supremacy? (Saint Nicholas was born in Turkey, so, no.) Will I have to get another booster shot in the spring? Is it safe to go outside?

Fortunately, people of faith are not so obsessed with these burning questions and the burdensome issues of breaking news. It’s not that they don’t affect us. We live in this world and we have to navigate it. If the crowd is stampeding, we certainly don’t have to join in, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to stand still and be trampled underfoot.

Faith lives in the secular world, but it is not of that world. It is the bridge between the supernatural and the natural, and it welcomes this season which celebrates the birth of Christ as an opportunity to remind us of what is truly important.

This year the secular world is concerned with pandemics, politics, pigments and pronouns. Just a few short years ago, we were goaded with letters of the alphabet. Remember the popular talking head phrase, “The War on Christmas?” One of the worst perceived attacks was the abbreviation, “Xmas” in lieu of the full word. The forces of evil were intent on taking the “Christ” out of “Christmas.”

Don’t you love it when a bit of history shines some light into a dark corner? Here’s a bit of history: For generations, the Bible of western civilization was written in Greek. The first two letters of “Christ,” or “Cristos” in Greek are “chi” (C), which looks like our “X,” and “rho” (R), which looks like our “P.” The two symbols were combined in a monogram which became part of the battle standard of the Emperor, Constantine, who converted the Roman Empire to Christianity.

Abbreviations were long been used by the church when everything was painstakingly written by hand, and particularly after the invention of the printing press in 1436. Type setting for the press was also done by hand and it was expensive and time consuming.

There’s no doubt that “Xmas” has been used by people in a hurry or too lazy to spell out “Christmas,” but there is no ad revenue or political capital in that story.

Which brings us back to this year and this season. The times are troubled. To a student of history, that sounds almost redundant, because in a historical context, there is no time devoid of trouble. But trouble can be a good teacher, and for people of faith, those who had it before and those who discovered it during the plague years, we are living an object lesson in what “X” means, and putting “X” back into Christmas is just the beginning.

Merry Christmas!


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