X is Still in Xmas

I remember at some point after I learned to write longhand, sending a letter home (from camp maybe?) where I had seen something (most likely something to do with fishing) that I wanted to target for December 25. I used the term Xmas in my letter to make my point. I was mildly rebuked for such a secular way of writing the name for this (at that time) sacred holy-day, taking Christ out of Christmas.

Years later, I remember being put off by a sign in front of a church (Church of Christ I think) whose symbol beside the church’s name was a wine goblet with a large red X across it. My reaction was one of disappointment that a church would so blatantly proclaim its primary message as opposition to drinking alcohol.

Both of these instances reflect the persistent public mis-information in the use and meaning of X in the Christian context. It does not seasonally replace Christ with X as in “an unknown quantity” or a name not to be uttered or written or acknowledged (though by some it might be intended in this way.) It does not represent on the church sign the X meaning “not allowed” or “do not enter” or “evil” as in X-rated.

X is the greek letter chi, pronounced as a hard C or K, as in “bach” or “loch.” It is the first letter of the word Christos–Christ’s initial, if you will.

Certainly there is room for confusion, as the symbol has been used in so many ways in mathematics and society. X marks the spot on map; denotes the signature of the illiterate; represent the cartoon eyes of a dead character.

Other misunderstood Christian symbols include the Greek letter theta–a circle with a line across it. No disrespect is intended. It does stand for a ZERO or NOTHING. This is the first letter in the Greek work for God, Theos.

And the familiar fish symbol often seen on car bumpers and other sold stuff is an acrostic derived from Greek letters that spell out the word ichthys, or fish.

Ichthys consists of five letters from the Greek alphabet: I-ch-th-y-s. When these five letters are used as initials for five words, we obtain this Christian Declaration: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter. This is an acrostic for ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.’

The simple fish figure may or may not have been used as a secret signal of recognition traced in the sand by fellow X-tians as the commonly-accepted story goes.

So, while much of the Christian community’s concerns about the secularization of Christmas make a valid point (Fox News nothwithstanding), the “Christ out of Christmas” argument is, well, fishy.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. So: All Gandy, all the time? I have to try to constrain myself–don’t put such temptation before me! More pictures today, so more words tomorrow.

  2. If there is a war on Christmas I think Christmas is winning. It has completely taken over Dec and Nov, and it rapidly expanding across the Halloween border into October.

  3. Just to be the contrarian that I tend to be, as you may well remember [GRIN]…….Christ actually came late to the midwinter Solstice festivals that were prevalent in many cultures long before the Christian Era. The Roman Church was shrewd in using these existing celebrations and inserting Christian symbolism and ritual in order to win converts to the faith. I contend that there has never been a totally Christian Christmas but rather two conjoined celebrations that have always vied for our attention. This petulance from the religious right is unbecoming and doing little to further their cause. They should act more Christ-like if you ask me and set an example of love and charity.

  4. I forgot about the Grinch piece!
    Interesting article by a thoughtful writer but did you read the comments?? Seems to prove the point that sniping and blame and sanctimonious talk are the name of the game in the faith community.
    As one who is always searching but has never claimed to have all the answers I feel very shut out by this nonsense. No one seems interested in Truth. Only in being right.

  5. Freddie,
    Sorry so late posting, you know…St.Nick..etc sometimes gets in the way…
    Please remember the “X” of Christ’s first Apostle, St. Andrew who died at the age of 93 at the hands of Greek authorities for preaching the Gospel of Christ. The Christian Cross of the Confederacy was designed by Confederate General B.G.T. Beauregard. St. Andrew felt unworthy of being crucified in the style of Jesus’ upright Latin cross, so he hung for three days, upside down, defying his persecutors, continuing to preach the Gospel from the “X”. This was the Christian Cross of the Confederate soldier for which thousands died defending.