The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning. — Mark Twain1
Sometime during the last century (it is difficult to find an actual beginning), the word “Xmas” began creeping into public correspondence and advertisements. It was a little thing, hardly noticed by anyone, but it set the stage for a profound movement away from “Christ” in any public discourse. X is, of course, the universal symbol for the unknown.2
Quietly and unobtrusively at first, but rising to a crescendo of legal and governmental attacks against Christianity, the words and the symbols of the gospel message are being purged from open expression.
A steady drumbeat of lawsuits, threatening letters, and joint amicus briefs have been generated by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), and other national organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, pounding away at any semblance of the Christian message. The ACLU even has a separate unit dedicated to the fight for the “equal treatment” of all religions, euphemistically titled the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
There are many examples that could be given, but here are just a few that have developed in the past three years.
The fight over the World War II memorial cross in the middle of the Mojave Desert is still being waged between the ACLU and Congress. Meanwhile, someone has stolen the cross.3
The city of Avon Lake, Ohio, placed a sign in front of City Hall that read, “Remember Christ is in Christmas.” The AU objected and the city took it down.4
The Parks & Recreation Committee in Menominee, Michigan, was going to place a crèche in the band shell of a public park. The AU claimed this would violate the Establishment Clause and the committee
built a “holiday display” instead that contained all of the “winter” symbols.5
Handel’s Messiah was performed in Holladay, Utah, during the Christmas season, for which the city provided a “discount” to the choral and orchestra for the use of government facilities. Strong letters were written to the city and the city leaders caved in. No more Messiah in city venues.6
A public school in Connecticut was using an evangelical chapel for graduation ceremonies. Some teachers, parents, and students complained that they were “forced” to view a large cross and hear music that spoke of Jesus and salvation. This was very “offensive” to them. The result: lawsuits and judgments declaring unconstitutional the use of “religious” venues for public school ceremonies.7
In human terms, the ACLU is large and successful, with over 500,000 members and dues-paying supporters, 200 staff attorneys, and offices in all 50 states. Other organizations, like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, are quite small, with fewer than 16,000 members. Texas has its own Texas Freedom Network that brags on its website that its 45,000 members have become a “trusted” source for all the major print and news networks in the nation.
All insist, of course, that they are “only” defending the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, and that all individuals are free to “worship” however they wish—just don’t try to do so on any public or government property.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have started using the term “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” That small change has vast implications should those words signal a change in official policy. Freedom of religion implies your freedom to assemble, proselytize, and conduct your personal life in a manner reflective of your religious beliefs. Freedom of worship is and can be limited to mere personal and private expressions of religious beliefs, negating all public demonstrations of what one believes. Worship can be confined to a designated place—or restricted to one’s private thoughts.
Remember Mark Twain’s observation? “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.”
“Holiday” is the Anglicized form of “Holy Day.” The original meaning has been totally lost. “Holy” has nothing to do with our holidays. The term has come to mean “no work.” We are conditioned to think of weekends as “regular holidays” and the “special holidays” as mere extensions of free time in which we can do pretty much whatever we want to do.
Halloween has been prostituted from the original All Hallows Eve in which one was supposed to prepare for worship the next morning on All Saints’ Day. Granted, the “eve” fairly quickly turned into sensual and mischievous license, since one was assured of confession and absolution the next day. Now, Halloween has become the most glaring promotion of wickedness and demonic representation imaginable—all in the name of “fun” and “celebration” and with absolutely no thought of seeking confession and absolution.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
We were hardly out of Halloween (the advertisements for which began sometime in late September), mostly skipped Thanksgiving (which had little to do with any giving of thanks), before we rushed into the “winter holidays”—the secularized, sanitized, and commercialized version of Saturnalia, the pagan and sensual ritual of worshiping the winter solstice. In the words of a rather well-known slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
Christmas, even for many Christian families, has become more about the giving of gifts than the Giver of Gifts (James 1:17). Churches all across the country will host organ recitals and promote cantatas, dramatic extravaganzas, and musical productions that stress entertainment more than the eternal message of forgiveness, salvation, and the coming King.
May I humbly suggest that more of us need to spend time with our families teaching them the wonder and majesty of God’s incarnation. The first 14 verses of John’s Gospel need to be read to our children along with the section in Philippians 2:5-11, in addition to the first three chapters of the Gospel of Luke.
Those of us who have positions of leadership in our churches or at our places of ministry should try to encourage our pastors and other leaders to keep a strong emphasis on the reason for Christ’s birth. All too often the baby Jesus is left cute and cuddly among the barn animals, smiling benignly up at the poor shepherds. Oh yes, we repeat the song of the angel chorus and tell of the wise men who came from afar to give the gifts of honor to the newborn king.
Please understand. The actual birth of Jesus was absolutely ordinary in every human way, even if the story is gripping in its emotion and wonder. The miracle was the conception. The good tidings were that God had become man to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Please take the “X” out of Christmas.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
- Letter to George Bainton, October 15, 1888, solicited for and printed in Bainton, G. 1890. The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners. London: J. Clarke & Co., 87-88.
- X has long been a mathematical symbol for an unknown variable. X later came into use as an abbreviation for the name Christ because it is the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ.” To the vast majority of people in our culture, however, the X in “Xmas” would be completely meaningless, effectively removing the Reason for the season.
- The Mojave Cross. Stanislaus Skeptics. Posted on stanskeptics.org August 8, 2009. See also Mojave Cross. Snopes.com. Posted on snopes.com July 2009, updated May 15, 2010.
- Avon Lake. Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Posted on au.org May 5, 2009.
- Menominee. Ibid, April 23, 2009.
- Holladay. Ibid, October 26, 2009.
- Connecticut Schools’ Plan to Hold Graduations in Church Is Ruled Unconstitutional. American Civil Liberties Union news release, May 31, 2010.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Morris III, H. 2010. XMAS: Removing the Reason for the Season. Acts & Facts. 39 (12): 4-5.