WILL you be celebrating Christmas or Xmas this year?
The advertising world's penchant for fancy abbreviations has seen an increasing use of Xmas over recent years, to the extent that it is becoming more common in general use, despite a deal of vigorous opposition to it.
The chief argument is that it tends to take Christ out of a celebration that came into being because of Christ.
The word Christmas gained common usage a long time after the death of Christ.
Few people use Xmas for any reason other than to save space or to gain some type of commercial impact. Those who do defend its use generally say the X is a symbol for Christ.
The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary says of X: "Symbol for Christ, representing the chi in Greek, used in abbreviations such as Xmas".
The word Christian was a recognised title in the New Testament period, although according to the Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Vol 1) published by Inter-Varsity Press of Leicester, England, "it is evident there were other names which Christians used".
Xmas is a contraction of Christmas. Barely allowable in its common use in writing and printing, is intolerable in the pronunciation Exmas.Eric Partridge
The book said Christanoi might "have been originally thought of as soldiers of Christus, of the household of Christus or the partisans of Christus".
"Luke, [the author of the first history of the church] who clearly knew the church there well, places the first use of the name at Syrian Antioch. Luke has shown Antioch as the first church with a significant pure-Gentile, ex-pagan element, that is the first place where pagans would see Christianity as something other than a Jewish sect. Appropriate names for the converts would not be long coming.
"If Christian was originally a nickname, it was, like the Methodists later on, adopted by the recipients. In the earliest second century literature, the name is employed without question by the Christian bishop Ignatius and the pagan governor Pliny," the dictionary says.
Information supplied by my good friend Kerry Medway at Port Macquarie, quoting Pastor Mathew Burrows of Kootingal, questioned December 25 as being the date of Jesus' birth, because this was mid-winter in the northern hemisphere and the shepherds would not have been out in the fields tending their flocks by night. The flocks would have been under shelter.
In Roman times, December 25 was a day of celebration in honour of the Roman god Saturn and the feast was called Saturnalia. In ancient pagan civilisations, December 25 was the gods' birthday.
In the old Roman calendar, December 25 was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis – "the day of the birth of the unconquered sun".
When the Roman church wished to convert the pagans to its Christianity, it converted many pagan festivals into Christian festivals. In AD 354, Pope Liberius ordered the people to celebrate Christ's birthday on the old Roman Saturnalia, December 25.
The name Christmas, a contraction of Christ's Mass, became common during the Middle Ages.
Kerry Medway has often spoken out in opposition to the exalted place Santa Claus has been given in Christmas celebrations.
Southern Cross, the magazine of the Anglican Siocese of Sydney, tells us the name comes from a fourth century bishop of Myra called Nicholas, later Saint Nicholas. Enraged by some young women prostituting themselves to pay for dowries during the custom of gift giving, he delivered the dowries himself. That Southern Cross magazine telling in two pages the story of Christmas is headed, possibly for its own effect, "Images of Xmas".
Probably the final word about Xmas should come from Eric Partridge's Usage and Abusage: "Xmas is a contraction of Christmas. Barely allowable in its common use in writing and printing, is intolerable in the pronunciation Exmas."
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