Putting the X back in Xmas

There has been considerable furore in local Christian circles about the intentional secularising of the public face of Christmas. When quizzed about the absence of nativity scenes or even the word ‘Christmas’, shopping centres admit to actively de-Christianising the ‘Holiday Season’, much to the chagrin of Christians. I, for one, fail to see what the fuss is about.

Firstly, South Africa is not a Christian nation. It was officially Christian under Apartheid, and what a fine job they did of proclaiming the name and nature of Christ back then. [Dear blog reader, that is what we call sarcasm. Please do not take me to task on the morality of Apartheid]. Mercifully, our government no longer claims to be acting for God. Even with a nominal Christian majority in our country, there can be no expectation upon a secular society to insist upon celebrating this season as exclusively Christian. If a secular nation wants to appropriate a Christian festival (as we originally did to the pagan one) as a shopping holiday, then all power to them. Let them celebrate gaudy emptiness as loudly as they want.

Secondly, how long have we been under the illusion that Christmas is Christian? Why are we complaining now about its de-Christianisation, only once the names have been removed? It concerns me that we fight for the superficialities when we have shown little concern over the years for the substance. And why exactly are we so eager to have Jesus’ name attached to a festival that has long since been sold over to tacky commercialism? It is all about excess, drunkenness and greed, and it has been for quite some time. I’m frankly quite glad that I no longer have to excuse or defend a connection between ‘Xmas’ and Christ.

The biggest scandal in this saga is not that the world at large is uninterested in Christ. That’s no news headline. The scandal for me is that this indicates the degree to which we Christians remain in a naive cloud in our thinking about our place in society. The Western world has rapidly secularised and politically liberalised. The philosophical mood has shifted, by and large, towards relativism, and has certainly swiftly fled from childlike trust in the Powers That Be and the Great Truths. All of this has not happened in a corner. And yet, we Christians still expect the world to attend carefully to Christian opinions. We still labour at evangelism as though everyone reads our book and knows our history and respects our ideals. We still expect the Church to be the place that the world turns for answers. And when it doesn’t, we throw our toys from the cot. This kind of laziness in Christian thought and speech, which bawls at the march of secularisation, is ironically probably the major reason for secularisation. But whatever its place in the past, our laziness and naivete is a serious threat to the gospel in the present. The Christian world needs to rapidly mature through grown-up study of the Word and our world, or we should bunker down and wait for the next Dark Ages.

So, what about Christmas? Well, the one thing a pluralist society doesn’t do (yet) is to insist that we banish Christ from our festivities. As the last vestiges of meaning drain away from Xmas, and as our friends awake on the 26th with headaches, broken toys and bad debt, what could be better than to bear testimony to having celebrated something as awesome as God’s gracious incarnation into this cold, barren humanity? What could be more compelling than not to have bought into the excess and emptiness of Xmas, but rather to carry an incisive and wise witness to the Christ of Christmas?


9 thoughts on “Putting the X back in Xmas

  1. Phillip says:

    Well said Jordan! Below is a response to an email I received telling me to phone Cavendish and the like insisting that they not remove references to Christ in the Christmas greetings etc. :

    Dear ….,

    Thank you for your commitment to the Lord Jesus. I share your love for our Lord and Saviour and agree with you that that his birth was the most important event in the history of the world. How I long to live in a world that is able to see this! The truth however is that we don’t. Jesus’ prayed for his disciples as follows: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). So,according to Jesus’ set purpose, we are left in a world that does not acknowledge God or his Son. This is the reality we see when people, according to your words, “attempt to remove Christmas from the Christmas season”. I would however, respectfully and lovingly, disagree with your course of action to correct this matter.

    The idea of “official” holidays celebrating something to do with Jesus would of course have been foreign to the early church, as the government, although established by God, was opposed to Jesus and his followers. In fact, as church history shows, most governments actually persecuted the church! It is therefore a small miracle and gift from God that we (Western Christians) have the privilege of not only being able to worship Jesus freely as God, but even to have the state officially recognise the celebration of Jesus’ birth and death as holidays! Interestingly enough, the Reformers were not even sure whether Christmas should have been celebrated, given it’s links to the papacy. It is of course also highly likely, and ironic, that the origin of Christmas lies in the pagan “middle of winter” festivals and is therefore hardly Christian.

    Given this, I would ask myself, what would be gained for our Lord Jesus by me phoning and writing to shopping centres, corporations and organisations complaining about the removal of any references to Jesus in there greetings and decorations? In which way will this bring glory to God or bring people to salvation? I struggle to see how. First of all, God is glorified when the church on earth live holy lives and serve as God’s messengers of the gospel. God doesn’t care about any of our festivals (although he is not against them). Furthermore, I doubt that people will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus by me complaining about them removing Jesus from their Christmas décor and greetings. I would argue that I will achieve the exact opposite, as I will only serve to reinforce the perception of Christianity as one of the many religions fighting for its place in the sun.

    So, I will continue to teach my children that Jesus is God’s king who was born to a virgin (on an unknown date), who lived the life we could never live and to die the death we should have died. I will encourage them to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). With regards to the removal of Jesus from Christmas, I will do nothing. And if unbelievers were to ask me why I am not offended, I will say that just as God “does not live in temples made by man” (Acts 17:24) he does not need human made festivals to be honoured.

    Kind regards,

  2. Mary says:

    Quite frankly, I’d rather the secular world left Christmas alone altogether. They have New Year. And if they want something more along pagan lines, they can go ahead and celebrate Yule, etc. Christmas should be a Christian celebration, celebrated by those who consider themselves Christians.

    You may find this interesting: http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/11/messages/939.html
    Although Christians usually complain about the use of the word “Xmas”, it would seem that “X” is an abbreviation for “Christ” which has been in use since the mid 16th century (according to Wikipedia) and derives from the Greek word for Christ. So perhaps we don’t need to worry about people using “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” so much as that the origin of the abbreviation has been forgotten. A subtle nuance, but worth noting. Perhaps it is a good way to start a conversation about the real meaning of Christmas. When someone writes “Xmas”, we can ask them if they know what the X stands for… :-)

  3. Mary says:

    I think that Christmas IS Christian. But Christians should celebrate it in a way which is different to the way the rest of the world celebrates it – rather like the description in your last paragraph. To say that Christmas isn’t Christian because it is abused is a mistake.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      True, Mary, but I think my point was simply that what is celebrated ‘out there’ is not Christmas, and all that is happening in the removal of Christian religious references is that this is slowly being acknowledged. We can kick up a stink about it, but I think that this is an alienating and discrediting approach to apologetics.

  4. Debbie says:

    Hi Jordan. It seems I’ve created quite a stir by innocently forwarding an email that came into my mailbox!
    Interestingly the response from the older generation has been somewhat different.
    I don’t disagree with what you have said and I don’t disagree with Phillip’s letter but it does get me to thinking of the old adage “For evil to prosper requires good men to do nothing.” I’m sure this can be applied on both a small and large scale. (And usually the large scale began with the small scale.)
    Obviously the email hit a nerve and there have been varying responses, but it wouldn’t take much -considering the time already spent on this post and comments, for us to send an email to various centre managements “suggesting” in a kind and loving way that they consider keeping the reason for Christmas in their displays. Who knows what subtle message could prompt a shopper to go to a Carol service or Christmas Day service where they would hear the Gospel. Surely the the name of Jesus should be proclaimed at any opportunity and what better opportunity than Christmas.
    I tend to feel that Christmas shouldn’t be a general public holiday that all and sundry get to “celebrate” with drunkeness and excess, but rather a day that Christians choose to celebrate if it genuinely means something to them in their lives.
    I’m not sure if that is the right thought process to be having but there it is!
    As I said I don’t disagree with where you are coming from, but is it okay for us to just throw up our hands and say “look what the world has come to and we can do nothing about it”?
    After all they (the shops) are capitalising on/benifitting from Christmas, surely they could give the real reason some credit!
    Just because we don’t “expect” people to be reading the Bible (or other evangelical books), does that mean we sit back when they stop being printed?
    Surely Christians need to stand up for what they believe in.
    But,yes, thankfully we can celebrate in our own way and not buy into the worlds interpretation.

    • Jordan Pickering says:


      Thanks for such an astute reply. I was, as usual, taking my cues mostly from things that annoy my atheist friends, such as this article: http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=13&art_id=nw20081211130732920C974438, but your fwd was helpful fuel for the fire.

      I think that I agree with you in nearly everything you said. We do indeed need to avoid capitulating or becoming defeatist or insular. However, what we need to do first is to correct the assumptions about our place in the world, as I said. We need to approach issues like this one with far more wisdom than we do. We need to make a case for our opinions, rather than always just exhibiting the tacit assumption that we have the Truth and therefore eveyone should acknowledge that and obey.

      So thanks for your fine balancing statements!

  5. Debbie says:

    Hi Jordan.
    I was directed to this site: http://www.cybersalt.org by a friend of my Dads in Holland. You have to register to be able to access it. If you do, go to the link ‘Joshua Goodling’ there is an article on this subject. I couldn’t decide if the site was sound or not because I’m not as clued up as you are on theology, maybe you can check it out and give me your oppinion??

  6. Mary says:

    Hi Jordan

    Yes, I agree with you that kicking up a stink about it is counterproductive. It is the duty of CHRISTIANS to proclaim Christ, rather than the shopping malls. And I also think that it is in some ways good if a distinction develops between the “Festive Season” and “Christmas”.

    Instead of complaining, I think it would be much more productive for Christians should use the opportunity to present the world with a Christ-centred Christmas which is noticeably different to what currently passes for Christmas. We should present a Christmas which is unavoidably Christian. So send Christmas cards to non-Christian friends this year which contain Bible verses speaking of the Saviour who was born for our redemption. Invite them to church to hear the Christmas message. Use your Facebook status to proclaim Christ at Christmas. The list goes on…

    As an aside, the use of “Xmas”, as opposed to “Christmas” is not actually counter-christian, although some may use it with that intent. You may find this interesting: http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/11/messages/939.html
    It would seem that “X” is an abbreviation for “Christ” which has been in use since the mid 16th century (according to Wikipedia) and derives from the Greek word for Christ, Χριστός. So perhaps we don’t need to worry about people using “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” so much as that the origin of the abbreviation has been forgotten. A subtle nuance, but worth noting. Perhaps it is a good way to start a conversation about the real meaning of Christmas. When someone writes “Xmas”, we can ask them if they know what the X stands for… :-)

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Mary! I’m so sorry. Your comments got automatically filed with viagra ads in my spam folder, and I checked them now only because I’m procrastinating a bit. I did not intend to keep you off my board!! Thanks for writing. Two months ago.

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