Why I Say “Xmas”

“You know me, I am no fan of the term X-mas or X anything.
I make my kids play Christ-box 360.
And if they break a bone they get Christ-rays.”
-Stephen Colbert

One of the most interesting things I find about evangelicalism is how often it is its own worst enemy. Take for example two of the pillars of American Evangelicalism: Evangelism & Culture Wars.

On the one hand, evangelicals often believe that one of the (if not the) most important part of the Christian faith is to win people to the Christian faith.

On the other hand, evangelicals also emphasize trying to keep (or make it one in the first place, depending on your interpretation of American history) America a Christian nation.

One of the things that makes accomplishing both these things almost impossible is simple psychology: when you make an enemy of someone, they are not easily won over to your position.

If my goal is to make my country a place where everyone says “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” I, either on purpose or by metaphorical implication, make everyone who says “Happy Holidays” an enemy.

Think about it.  People say that “THEY” are taking Christ out of Christmas? Who is this “THEY” anyway? Isn’t it just other people? People who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? They are the enemy. They are “in the way” of accomplishing my mission, especially (or primarily) if I do not have an already-established relationship with the person.

But once someone perceives they are your enemy, the defenses go up. It becomes extremely hard for them to hear anything you have to say as a positive step in the relationship, no matter how well-intentioned it is.

But the more damaging implications of the “Christmas culture war” is that it rests on three basic assumptions:

1. That people who say “Merry Christmas” are any closer to Christ than those who say “Happy Holidays.”
2. That we can coerce a culture into a relationship with Christ.
3. That winning this “battle” actually helps us win the “war.”

Here I want to take on assumption number three. My argument here, as I said in a previous controversial post, is that we have to be willing to concede some “battles” to win the “war.”

This is part of my life mission to “concede” people into the Kingdom of God. This seems to be how Jesus reacted much of the time. It was his unwillingness to fight that was often the most powerful weapon in his arsenal (except for the religious leaders of course. He had no problem standing up to them). When Peter declared that it was finally time to “stand up for what we believe,” Jesus rebuked him and healed the person Peter lashed out against.

The point of Jesus’ mission in the world was to lose, not to win. It was in losing arguments that he won people. But that is often difficult for us to swallow. It seems so backward. But thus is the Kingdom of God. We want to do both. But in the process we never get to the point: Jesus. We stop people before they ever get to Jesus. We stop them at whether or not they say “Christmas,” we stop them at whether they celebrate Halloween. We stop them at whether or not evolution is true. We stop them at whether or not the government should let homosexual couples marry. There are so many check-points, no wonder so many people give up before they ever get to Jesus.

In a world where Christians are labeled as being against everything in our culture, what a powerful argument for God when we confound their expectations, when we come to battle with a towel and basin full of water instead of a sword.

Why not sacrifice the less important (people saying Xmas) for the more important (people seeing X in me).


13 responses to “Why I Say “Xmas”

    • Yep, it is odd. But that’s what makes it great too. Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate the encouragement.

  1. Pingback: Keeping the Christ in X-mas « Words of Reason

  2. i wrote a post on this topic last holiday season (http://wordsofreason.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/keeping-the-christ-in-x-mas/) that addressed a different aspect of this same presenting issue.

    however, i really appreciate the missiological focus you have on this. you’ve voiced something i’ve felt nagging the back of mind for some time now: the culture wars are not our mission. the war for the hearts and souls of people is our mission.

    jared, what other areas do you think this core idea touches on? you mentioned quite a few bugaboos (gay marriage, Christmas wars, evolution), are there others? politics (or more specifically, political leanings) comes to mind.

    thanks for this post!

    • Yes, I think the biggest one of the 90s was political leanings. I think that is changing pretty quickly fortunately. I think music and movies are still one that we hold onto. I think that there is wisdom in critiquing the messages of our media but we often do so out-of-hand. That’s a good question though. I would love to think of others (send them my way as you think of them too).

  3. From a link on Facebook…

    It seems to me that in a culture that is increasingly intolerant toward any public reference to the Christian faith, we should at least attempt to remind people that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus rather than Santa and his reindeer. Christianity is always just one generation away from extinction (the reason it is so important to witness to the truth, live it out, and as you say, hope others see Christ in me), but emphasizing the Christian roots of Christmas does not make secularists the enemy, only perhaps just ignorant about the origin of Christmas.

    Perhaps we can agree that there are some groups and individuals who want to remove the manger from public view, but without holding on to the roots of Christmas, there can be at some point a generation that has no clue about what Christmas is all about, (unless they happen to see the Charlie Brown Christmas special on TV).

    Besides the Christian angle, Christmas Day (December 25) was designated a federal holiday by Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870. By the way, New Years Day (January 1) is also a federal holiday, but to those who do not follow the Gregorian calendar, it should be offensive and narrow minded to impose that date (for example, the Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, and the Jewish Rosh Hashanah occurs 163 days after the first day of Passover; this year being 5772, not 2011).

    But I digressed; I’m not convinced that many Christians use Christmas as an evangelistic opportunity, other than to remind people of the reason for the season. That is not really an “in your face” position, it is just helping people to see the other side of Madison Avenue marketing and being true to history and tradition.

    • Scott – thanks for the thoughtful comment. And I agree with you about Christians using Christmas as an evangelistic opportunity (except for most large churches that have several Christmas Eve seeker-friendly services). My point was that it is possible that their insistence and/or anger about culture celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25 might hurt their ability to bring them to the Christian faith in the long run.

      But I need to quibble with your logic just a little bit. You talk about the “roots of Christmas,” but I have a few points to make about such “roots.”

      First of all, December 25 was a pagan holiday well before it was a Christian one. The Catholic Church absconded with pagan holidays and Christianized them. After all, it’s easier to just give them a different reason to celebrate than to try to find an entirely new day to celebrate. There is a reason why Christmas trees (symbolizing life even in the midst of the death of winter) and Easter bunnies (symbolizing the fertility rites of pagan religion in the Spring) are just as prominent in Christmas and Easter celebrations as Jesus.

      Secondly, to say that people cannot change the meaning of a holiday is, it seems to me, to commit what is called in logic the “genetic fallacy.” The origins of something do not necessarily have any bearing on current meaning. This happens all the time in language (especially biblical studies) but is also relevant here. Holidays meanwhatever the culture and/or group wants them to mean. If our culture is largely non-Christian it makes no sense whatsoever for them to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. But that doesn’t mean they can’t celebrate something. And so it evolves. And the meaning of Christmas, for non-Christians in our culture, becomes a celebration of family, goodness, and (if unconsciously) our capitalistic economy.

      And my point is: that’s okay. We are fighting a losing battle to try and make Christmas meansomething to people for whom it couldn’t possibly be meaningful in that way. And to be honest it gets annoying. It’s like telling everyone who says “gay” that they should really mean “happy” when they use that word, because that’s what it originally meant. They are likely to say, “that’s fine and good, but it doesn’t mean that in our culture any more…and more importantly, that’s not what I meant by it.”

      I think as Christians we should spend more time making Christmas meaningful for us (e.g. learning to wean off the consumeristic gift-receiving obsession and make it actually more about Jesus, hope, peace, anticipation, etc.) and much less time reminding people that Christmas is “our holiday.”

      What do you think?

      • I think that one treats some days as holy, and another treats them all the same – each should be convinced in his own mind… or however exactly it goes.

        I think the assertion was that to lose Christmas is to lose Christ, and I think that is missing the whole point of it all.

  4. I really appreciate the check point metaphor. I think deep inside people are looking for someone to save them. And yet we block their routes with minor things.

    But I guess the ones who fight minor battles like to think that they are keeping Xianity distinct so that there will be a place for those ‘enemies’ to come, cause if there is no distinction, why even make a move? But I guess the hard question is where is the line of distinction? Or maybe it’s a very thick line??

  5. That is a great question Paul. You have good insight. Yes, we have to be distinct in order to offer something “different.” But what makes us different exactly? That’s a great question – and one that is at the heart of the matter.

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