Christmas gets more and more contentious every year. Last year we in Rhode Island suffered through the silliest conflict between the Governor, Lincoln Chafee, and citizens of this fair state. It revolved around the fact that the Governor referred to the decorated tree in the State House as a “Holiday Tree” instead of a “Christmas Tree.” It was a silly conflict, but it became a serious political football.
Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams on the principle of religious freedom. The founding charter specifically states that there shall be no overlap of governance and religious organizations. Chafee feels strongly about that principle and, therefore, said that the tree was a symbol for all the residents of the state, not just the Christians. It has become a conflict which characterizes the lack of enthusiasm for the Governor, who has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2014. I like him.
It turns out that this politically Democratic state has a conservative tinge to its political and religious principles. Although most of the people in Rhode Island are registered Democrats (traditionally progressive) and Roman Catholic (traditionally Democratic) there is a decidedly conservative/traditionalist character to the Roman Catholic population.
The latest conflicts have been about the term “Happy Holidays” instead of saying “Merry Christmas.” The proverbial “Keep Christ in Christmas” shows up on posters in public transportation, bumper stickers, and on billboards around the state. The target for this similarly silly debate is a Christogram, a symbol used for the name of Jesus Christ. It is, of course, the term Xmas, a shortened form of the word Christmas. I have heard people become absolutely explosive over the use of the shorter form.
As a Christogram, however, the term Xmas is absolutely appropriate. It features the ancient symbol X as the name for Christ, the term given by the Church to Jesus. It is of Greek origin, where the term “Christos” is spelled beginning with the letter X. For hundreds of years the X has been known as a legitimate Christogram to be used in place of spelling out the word “Christ.”
One of the earliest Christograms is the familiar P with an X crossing the stem of the P:
You see, the P is not a P. It is the Greek letter Rho. The X is the Chi letter, and the combination is called a Chi Rho. For centuries it has been a beloved symbol in the Church for the term Christ, which means “the anointed one.” To use it in the word Xmas, therefore, is a perfectly legitimate and somewhat orthodox practice. Traditionalist should embrace it instead of rejecting it.
I get perturbed over argumentation over such issues when those who become most vehement have not taken the time to check out the facts. Governor Chafee was perfectly appropriate in defending the founding principle of the State of Rhode Island. His illuminated tree in his living room is a Christmas Tree. (He’s an Episcopalian.) But the tree in the State House is a tree for all people, therefore, more appropriately a Holiday Tree.
People and companies who use the term Xmas instead of spelling it out are right on the target. They are honoring an ancient and respectable tradition by writing it as Xmas. It is a Christogram.
One of my favorite comments is that I have trouble honoring those who insist upon demonstrating more “heat than light” in their pronouncements.
Merry Xmas to you all.