Sunday, December 17, 2017

Is it X or CHRIST? by Susan Harris

Our Sunday School Christmas concerts in Trinidad were highly anticipated events that drew large audiences annually. The merrily-decorated church was packed year after year with members and well wishers who came out to enjoy the songs, poems and drama presented solo or in groups. The skit from the Teens Class was the highlight that never failed to thrill, and as the final item on the program, it brought a bright and memorable year to a close.

One December, I donned pink and stood on the pulpit with heels together and toes out, my hands clasped on level with my waist, my shoulders squared. I bowed to the crowd, and upon standing erect again, with every ounce of energy in my tiny 12 year-old body, belted my monologue:

Here’s a question, tell me pray,
Should we call it Xmas day?
Or is it Christmas we should say?
Is it X or Christ?

The audience waited with bated breath as I replied to the rhetorical question posed by a poet whose name I did not know and which an Internet search in 2017 still did not reveal. Xmas was a short and convenient word of the season. It saved ink and space when signing postcards. Was it really a big deal if it’s X or Christ in the “Christmas” word? But in Christian circles it mattered. It mattered immensely, even to this day, and I too was convinced by the proof I delivered that night.  

Who was He of matchless birth?
Heaven’s glory left for earth,
Coming here with lowly birth,
Is it X or Christ?

Who was He that wise men three,
Travelled from afar to see,
Bringing gifts so liberally,
It wasn't X but Christ.

A few “amens” had rung out from the senior ladies, their hatted heads bobbing up and down.

Who did travel through the land,
Always with a helping hand,
Healing folks at His command,
It wasn't X but Christ.

Who did die upon the tree?
Suffered there for you and me.
Bore our sins on Calvary,
It wasn’t X but Christ.

The nodding and bobbing had continued though the church was quiet, conviction heavy as my high-pitched tones commanded the night air:

Let us then with one accord,
Honour give unto the Lord.
Call it CHRISTMAS, that’s the word!
For it isn’t X but Christ.

The verdict was delivered in crescendo, with passion that still marks my person to this day. The poem, executed with the intonations and flourishes in the manner my principal had trained me for choral speaking when I represented my school at age 9, accrued a level of sacredness tantamount to the Holy Scripture. I bowed, acknowledged the thunderous clapping and cheers by making eye contact with the crowd from right to left as he had demonstrated to me, before exiting the stage through a side door.  

Decades later the question resurrected as I wrote my Christmas alphabet books. Words beginning with the letter x are often challenging to find, but it was easy this time. Both An Alphabet of The First Christmas and Christmas A to Z  contains Xmas, although the other 25 words used in each book are different. 

It was during the research for the books that I came across the knowledge that X means Christ in the Greek language. X comes from the Greek letter Chi which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, which in English is Christ. Therefore Xmas was derived by interchanging Christ with X to give us Xmas. ( this context then it is not sacrilegious to use Xmas, for it is in fact Christmas in a combination of letters from two languages. The wisemen did bring gifts to X. Friends on social media, teachers, media personnel and adults in general have observed to me that the origin and meaning of Xmas is new to them, and they discovered this knowledge through my alphabet books. 

It is not unlike the Latin inscription on the Canadian coins as I discovered while researching Little Copper Pennies in 2012. The effigy of the reigning monarch appears on the coins, and in our day it is that of Queen Elizabeth II. Her effigy first appeared in 1953 and in the coin pictured here was used until 1964. Note the inscription: ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA, which means, "Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, the Queen."

Copyright The Royal Canadian Mint 2017

Now examine the updated effigy of Queen Elizabeth II from 1965-1989. The inscription ELIZABETH II D. G. REGINA is a shortened form of the original. D.G. replaced DEI GRATIA but the meaning is the same, albeit it is an abbreviation of one language (Latin) and not two as in the case of Xmas (Greek and English) [although it is easier to make the connection between Xmas and Christmas than it is to link D.G. and Dei Gratia.]

Copyright The Royal Canadian Mint 2017
Interestingly, my awareness of both Christmas/Xmas and Dei Gratia/D.G. surfaced while writing books, and this encourages me to want to write and research more. I am pleased that "elementary" alphabet books have brought enlightenment to adults and it is my prayer that I will inspire and educate all the days of my life. 

Explanation of D.G. on page 114

It gives me peace to know that the Bible tells us that any who calls on Jesus Christ shall be saved, and this means "Christ" in any language. 

I still wear pink but as an adult I have a different and definitive answer than the preteen in the little church. X or Christ is good for me. 

Merry Xmas. Christ is born. I wish you a happy and holy season.

SUSAN HARRIS  is a speaker, former teacher and author of 12 books.


Peter Black said...

Inspiring, informative and enjoyable! Thanks Susan. That's a cute, thought-provoking poem, too.
When scribbling personal notes for myself in reference to Christ or Christmas in sermon preparation or in articles etc., I commonly abbreviate by using Xst for Christ and Xstmas for Christmas. ~~+~~

Susan Harris said...

I am thrilled to find that you're an "X-er", Peter. Your scribbling reminds me of the Greek letters we used in Math but transferred the shortcuts into our other jottings to save time. Wishing you a peaceful Christmas.

Glynis said...

I was very firm on never using the X-mas to denote Christmas. Then a most learned friend of mine explained similar to what you have shared, here, Susan. Thank you. But then my learned friend went on to say that she still would only use Christmas because most people are not shortening it for the 'secret Greek code' between Christians. Most shorten it in the world of consumerism and 'Happy Holidays' to take out Christ from Christmas, so I am in agreement with your poem! :) Although, God knows the motivation of our hearts, and that is what truly counts.Thanks for sharing this intersting information, Susan.

Carol Ford said...

Hi Susan, I have never felt comfortable with substituting Christ with an X. Good article. Thanks and wishing you a blessed CHRISTmas.

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