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Why ‘Xmas’ is Just Plain Offensive
If you take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas, and wave it off with an ‘X’, you do the thought, the epigram, and the very essence of Jesus and his birth a harsh injustice. We all now know that the ‘X’ is the sign of commercialism, or everyday-ism, and treats as cheap what to Christian’s is the beating heart of their calendar year - the miracle of Christ’s birth. It is like banning a commercial about the Lord’s Prayer in British cinemas’ – it is pandering to everybody at once, and so not saying anything at all. Not saying anything at all – that is the worst thing that can be said at Christmas.
For Christians, an ‘X’ will never do, even though, originally at least, it still represents ‘Christ’. In defense of it, one can say that the abbreviation originally came from the Greek letter ‘Chi’ – itself the first letter of the Greek word Christos, or Χ-ριστός – therefore coming into the English language as ‘Christ’. Its first usage was around nine hundred years ago, way before you saw it parading its wares on every board and coffee house in town. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, we find the term ‘Xp̄es mæsse" – the first known instance of it, alluding to its Greek ancestry.
But even in secular media, the ‘X’ is seen as a deprecation of the original esteem that the traditional word 'Christmas' holds. If we take this to its logical conclusion, we will see that it comes in the same spirit as those 51% of people that think the birth of Jesus to be ‘irrelevant’ to their understanding of the word. Recent surveys even indicate that 36% of children have no idea what is being celebrated! Perhaps that is why, in modern style guides for the big broadsheets, including the New York Times and The Times, the ‘X’ should not be used on its own. On top of the ills just described, 'Xmas' is marked with the spirit of poor grammar, or sloppiness, of lackadaisical whimsy. Back in 1948, in the Vogue’s book of etiquette, the statement that ‘Xmas should never be used’ points to the semblance of it as a stand-in for something precious.
Of course, the big names in English and world literature were known to use the shortened phrase in letters. Byron, Coleridge and Carrol all did the word injustice in the 19th century and in a letter dated 1923, one of the most widely cited US Supreme Court justices in history – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr - used the term, even as he advocated broad freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Perhaps then that is how we are supposed to look at it; historically decent, and at the same time progressive, moving with the times even as we all stare down at our iPhones and order a gingerbread latte that comes in a two-tone ‘Christmas red’ cup.
One might say that it doesn’t matter which way you put it. But I would disagree. What’s in a name is very important. Shakespeare hasn’t been reduced to his Greek equivalent in the English language. Neither has Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, or any of the hundreds of other words that denote something precious to the brand in question. What makes it ill-timed and ill-used is the conflagration inside you that rises when you see it being used everywhere - you just know its plain wrong. So, even though it follows in the wake of the symbol Chi, much like the fish acronym Ichthus involves the use of the letters for ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’, the fact that there is history doesn’t take away from the fact that used nowadays, without this foreknowledge, it is sloppy at best.