On 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

If you haven’t noticed, I am very interested in the ironies of the Evangelical culture. As we enter into the season of the “Culture Wars,” we see an instance where conservative Christian culture undermines itself.

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, some evangelicals emphasize trying to “keep America a Christian nation” by protesting things like people saying “Xmas” or “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or by wanting to keep “In God we Trust” on our money.

Now, trying to accomplish both of things at the same time seems almost impossible, based on 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 implicitly, make everyone who says “Happy Holidays” an enemy.

Think about it.  People say “THEY” are taking Christ out of Christmas? Who is this “THEY” anyway? Isn’t it just other people? That is, a group of people who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? They are the enemy. They are “in the way” of accomplishing my mission of “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”

First of all, you are free to keep Christ in Christmas. As we’ve talked about before, holidays can be whatever we want them to be.

But more to the point, once someone thinks you have made them an 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. And so, Christians are increasingly perceived to be judgmental and intolerant, which is not a helpful moniker when you are trying to convert others to your position.

And so, I would like to propose that we do away with all culture wars, but specifically the “Christmas culture war,” which I think rests on three bad assumptions:

1. That saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” actually means you are a better Christian.
2. That we can coerce a culture into a relationship with Christ.
3. That winning this “battle” actually helps us win the “war.”

For the sake of space, I will make the bad assumption that numbers 1 & 2 are self-evidently poor assumptions. If you disagree, let me know in the comments and we can talk further. Here I want to further my argument against #3.

As we live in a culture that is increasingly post-Christian, my argument here, as I said in a previous controversial post, is that we have to be willing to concede some cultural “battles” to win the relationship “war.”

In fact, 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.

Because of our need to win, 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)?


6 responses to “On Why I Say Xmas*

  1. Not to mention the irony that the “X” was used as short form for “Christ” because it was the first letter of Christ in Greek (Chi) and also quite appropriately a cross-like symbol. There’s nothing secular about “XMAS” … unless, of course, you want it to be.

    • Yeah, I thought about including that tidbit (which I almost always tell my classes in December) but I thought only nerds would find it interesting. Looks like I was right. Burn.

      But seriously, that is probably the funniest irony about the whole thing.

  2. True Christianity never seeks to control culture. State churches have had that goal throughout history. Christ never was in Christmas, not in American or British society. That’s because most people never were believers, not even in Massachusetts. There was a consensus about Christian festivals and such in the US, but that died after WWI.

    On the other hand, I think there is a place for believers to publically celebrate significant events like Christmas and Easter, and to point out the difference between how they celebrate the winter festival as opposed to the secular. But Christians will never convince Americans to give up Santa, elves, “White Christmas”, or the shopping. Especially not if you’re a retailer! 🙂

  3. I just think X-Mas is for lazy people who cant get whole words out, besides it does sound kinda weird saying X-Mas doesn’t it? I mean come one Xian, Xopher, Xina, not to mention Xchurch for X’s sakes people!

  4. This may sound stupid, but as a person who spent the first third of her life as an unbeliever, I just wanted people to like me and include me. I found all this “stuff” about culture an interesting aside to what I thought my Xtian friends believed. I would never have argued about this with them. Those arguments are usually reserved for other Christians and people who were raised in the church but don’t want to have anything to do with it. It is a Christian thing. Unbelievers don’t really understand it and don’t want to.

    You want to win the world? Show some genuine love. Be an includer. Be an optimist. Be positive and enjoy your unbelieving friends. It’s a much better witness to them, especially at this time of year. Above all, be generous, especially with your time. People’s main problem since the garden is loneliness and alienation. Sound familiar? It’s not Christian philosophy – or maybe it is.

  5. Jared –

    I commend you for pointing out the harm of culture wars and for your call to consider the effect the wars have on others. But I feel the advice you offer might need to have some re-working so that it does not fuel distortions to the understanding of the Christian Mission.

    The humility of Christ, the condescension of Christ, the Charity of Christ…these are not a strategy for conquest. These are revelations of the Father.

    It seems that essentially you suggest taking on the appearance of tolerance for the sake of objective gains rather than being tolerant…of appearing to being non-judgmental as compared to actually being non-judgmental. You do not state it but implied is that it is suitable to our mission to offer an appearance of a synthesized humility and loving kindness so that others will not find us offensive.

    I would suggest that while our mission has its objectives, the gifts that we are given are given that we share in the divine nature. I believe our challenge is to fully avail ourselves to the graces offered by Christ so that Christ wins in ourselves what he has purchased…so that Christ himself may offer those gifts to the Father and to the World.

    I also thank you for posting this and all of your other posts. You do a lot to stimulate thinking and dialog.



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