In this holiday season, may goodwill and good cheer flow abundantly from your home. May your heart overflow with charity for your fellow man. May you not put your ignorance on public display like Meldrim Thomson during the 12 Days of Christmas – or any other time of the year.
Don’t be a Merry Meldrim.
Meldrim was governor of New Hampshire in 1977 at the time of his public display of ignorance. He sent a press release to journalists asking them keep Christ in Christmas by not using Xmas in place of Christmas. He claimed Xmas is a pagan spelling, a horrible four-letter word.
Since childhood, I’ve listened to Christians decry Xmas. They’ve ballyhooed about nonbelievers crossing Christ out of Christmas. They’ve hurled accusations at the secular world for attempts to use Xmas to over-commercialize Christmas.
Xmas was not manufactured in a toy shop. It was passed to us by our Victorian ancestors, the very people who made Christmas the grand, elaborate holiday it is today. They elevated its nostalgia and romance to proportions that modern mortals struggle to emulate annually, and they signed their Christmas Cards with Xmas, meaning no disrespect to Jesus by the action. The Victorians were not pagans, and though they reinvented Christmas, they did not conceive Xmas. They simply used an abbreviation handed down through the ages.
Meldrim’s aids failed him. Lots of papers and books passed across Meldrim’s official desk, but an Associated Press Style Guide never did. Advertisers might use the abbreviation Xmas to make room for more information in a limited space, but a good journalist always spells it out.
Before the advent of the printing press, however, this was not the case. Transcribing religious texts longhand required the use of abbreviations for efficiency. Though the printing press later streamlined producing multiple copies, the process remained cumbersome and common abbreviations stood. Christ was abbreviated using the Greek symbols for chi (X) and for rho (P), which together made the first two sounds in the word, Christ, and were overlaid to create the chi-rho symbol or christogram.
Y’all southerners know it as a monogram; the chi-rho christogram is Christ’s monogram. To expedite writing, the chi symbol (X) was frequently used alone to represent the word Christ, such as in Xtians (Christians) and Xmas (Christmas).
Early Xtians were not rabblerousing about this usage. Too bad Meldrim did. I expect more from a graduate of the University of Georgia raised in the South. We all should expect more.
Meldrim was right about something, though. Christ is in danger of losing his place of prominence in Christmas. But it is not the letter X that threatens to replace him. Eating, drinking, shopping, partying and creating human perfection in red and evergreen take his place in our lives beginning around Thanksgiving. Christmas has Santa, elves, greeting cards, snowmen, twinkling light displays, stockings and tinsel. But where is Christ? On Dec. 26, just as he has symbolically come into the world again to bring us hope, we snatch down decorations and throw Christmas into boxes.
Let’s not lose sight of what we’re celebrating. No one can X-out Christ. Christ is the alpha, the omega and the X. Christ is always there in Xmas, even for people who believe that by using an X they’ve made sure he’s not.