Sunday, January 16, 2011

Christmas, Xmas, or Happy Holidays

About a month ago, on Facebook, I saw evidence of the predictable annual debate: Christmas or Xmas, Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. None of these expressions have ever bothered me. I believe that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus being born as a man, in order to die on the cross for our sins. That said, I will explain why I don't insist on the term "Christmas" or become highly incensed if anyone dares to call it anything different.

According to Wikipedia, "The term 'Xmas', a popular shortened form of the word Christmas... originates from the use of the Greek letter chi to represent 'Christ' (Χριστός)." This abbreviation for Christ has been documented since 1021 AD, in chronicles, dictionaries, new testament manuscripts, ancient art, and churches. If you know about the "Ichthus" symbol, you know that symbols are common and the "X" standing for "Christ" was a part of that symbol as well. Ichthus (or Ichthys), written ΙΧΘΥΣ in Greek, is the word for fish. It was an acrostic for "Jesus Christ God's son Savior" as shown in the following:
  • Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for "Jesus".
  • Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστός), Greek for "anointed".
  • Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for "God's", the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for "God".
  • Upsilon (u) is the first letter of huios (Υἱός), Greek for "Son".
  • Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for "Savior".
Aside from the Xmas debate, many people become offended by hearing the phrase "Happy Holidays." They contend that the only holiday worth mentioning is Christmas. First off, this is insensitive to people who celebrate other holidays. Granted that Kwanzaa's creator initially intended the celebration to be an alternative to Christmas and spoke derogatorily about Jesus and the Christian faith. However, many who celebrate Kwanzaa today also celebrate Christmas. Kwanzaa celebrates heritage and history and its principles are not contrary to Christian faith, such as unity, community, family, helping one another, etc. In addition, Jewish people celebrate Hannukah. While most Jews do not believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, Messianic Jews do. Some celebrate Christmas, but from what I have read, many do not. It's not because they do not wish to honor Christ, but because they believe that many of the practices of Christmas stem from pagan rituals, such as decorating a Christmas tree (Jeremiah 10). I also read that the eating of a Christmas ham on December 25th commemorates the Abomination of Desolation that was committed by Antiochus when he burned a pig on the temple altar. Add those things to the knowledge that many pagan religions already celebrated the births of their deities at that time of the year and you understand why many Jewish believers would want little to do with the Christmas holiday. They believe that all the feasts that God ordained for his people present a picture of Christ and that there are parallels between Hannukah and Jesus and that they can best honor Christ by observing the feasts which God set forth, as opposed to one that is man-made and contains echos of pagan tradition (for that matter, I am nearly convinced to give up Christmas!). Thanksgiving was generally celebrated the last Thursday of November, until 1941 when Roosevelt signed a bill which changed it to the fourth Thursday. When scores of people are celebrating Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year's in a short span of time, is it any wonder that stores wish their customers a "Happy Holidays" instead of trying to wish them a happy Thanksgiving/Hannukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/NewYear's? Or trying to determine which holiday a particular person celebrates? Or risk offending someone? Yes, "Happy Holidays" may be a generic greeting, but how else is the average person to navigate the waters of the ethnic melting pot of the U.S.?

As for an etymology lesson, Wikipedia states that "the word 'holiday' originally referred only to special religious days. The word derived from the notion of 'Holy Day'." Webster's Dictionary's first definition listed under "holiday" is "holy day." Is it that offensive to wish someone a "Happy Holy Day?"

I've heard people stirring up the masses about "taking Christ out of Christmas" and declaring "war" against Christian holidays. I read that Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son is such a one and he should know better. It saddens me that a lot of Christians are willing to get sucked into a silly argument. They are just words. I think some people are so divisive, that they just go around looking for something to be upset about and cause strife. There are plenty of REAL problems in the world, we shouldn't be arguing semantics. Christmas is about Christ coming to earth to give himself for us. And we should, in turn, show his love to those around us, instead of getting worked up about silly abbreviations. I don't think that Jesus would care which way it's expressed if we are not doing what we should or our hearts are not right. Whatever words we choose to use, God knows our heart. You can say Christmas all you want and still not be righteous in God's eyes. And vice versa, you can say Xmas or Happy Holidays and be godly and giving, in love with Jesus. They are just words.

I read a post by a Christian band on Facebook, discussing this debate. Many people understood the truth and tried to enlighten others about where the term Xmas came from. However, there were many posts afterward that showed that many people did not care about the truth. It was as if they stopped up their ears and said, "La la la la la! I can't hear you!" They didn't want to be set straight. Maybe
they heard someone who they believed they should be able to trust--someone of prominence, a public figure or a pastor, that spoke out against these issues and they trust that they must know what they are talking about. So they get incensed, by proxy. Long entrenched beliefs are hard to shake.

It bothers me that this issue is so hotly debated and that non-Christians are exposed to the squabbling within the family of God. I saw a poll online about whether Christians thought that the debate would turn people off to Christianity. The majority didn't care, they were stuck on the word "Christmas." I was appalled that so many would choose a mere
word over the possibility of souls coming to Christ.

I was upset that so many people seem so averse to learning the truth. However, a still small voice reminded me of Paul's teaching in Romans 14. That passage even talks about special days. The gist of the passage is that if something offends your brother or sister, you should refrain from it. What you think is right to eat or celebrate, etc., is second to the importance of not causing your brother to stumble. Esteem your brother higher than that of your own liberty. Therefore, knowing the truth, we should still be sensitive to others and I myself vow to use the phrase "Merry Christmas" so as not to offend others.

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