When I was young, perhaps 9 or 10, I was at a friend's house making Christmas door hangers from half-circle blocks of wood and curled wire strung through holes punched in the sides of the blocks. I had carefully painted my wood block an appropriate seasonal color, and, realizing that I probably would not have room to write "Merry Christmas" across the block, I substituted a phrase I'd seen around several times: "Merry Xmas."
I will never forget the reprimand I received from my friend's mother, a woman who had always been very polite, even gentle, with me, upon finishing my door hanger. She asked me how I dare take Christ out of Christmas and follow a worldly tradition where the secular world tried to overtake the true Christian beginnings of this most beloved holiday.
I was crushed--my beautiful door hanger, which I'd spent so long painting and decorating with tiny individual polka dots and stars and carefully written words apparently represented something that was so against what I truly believed that I now found the decoration repulsive. I simply murmured that I had just seen it on a Christmas card and hadn't known what it meant and tried to hide my burning face.
Even though I finished the door hanger because everyone else was working on theirs still, I threw the decoration away the second I got the opportunity, never bothering to show my own parents.
Imagine my surprise today then, as I perused through the latest Reader's Digest while eating lunch at my desk, and found this:
"Who put the X in Xmas? Long story short--the Greeks. The popular greeting card abbreviation derives from the Greek word for Christ: Xristos."
All these years, and I have mistakenly thought that Merry Xmas was just what my friend's mother said it was--an attempt by the world to take the true meaning out of this sacred holiday. But it turns out that what had really happened was that I simply hadn't understood that Christ is so deeply embedded in this season that people can never take Him out, no matter how hard they might try.
We had a lovely Christmas program in church on Sunday, full of music and inspiration and peace. During that program, the speaker reiterated that the very symbols wrapped up in our Christmas traditions--candy canes, Christmas trees, gift-giving--are inspired by that Babe whose birth we celebrate and that they mean much more than people generally realize.
Take, for example, the humble candy cane--the speaker reminded us that its crooked shape is to remind us of the shepherds who, upon hearing the tidings of the angels proclaiming that great joy would be upon all people because of a small baby born that night, "hastened" to meet this newborn King.
Or the symbol of the Christmas tree, which is almost always an evergreen of some kind, reminds us that even in the "winter" of death, both spiritual and physical, there is One that lives and has triumphed over all, and, in doing so, allows us to live evermore as well.
Or, for another example, the tradition of gift-giving, which is two-fold in its meaning. Not only is gift-giving reminiscent of the gifts the wise men brought to the young Jesus to honor Him, but it is also an opportunity for us to show love for the people around us, share with those who might be in need, and appreciate all the gifts we are given in return (all things we are taught by Christ Himself that we should be doing year-round). Even Santa Claus, that glad symbol heralded by children everywhere, reminds us that he, like Christ, gives gifts to us all, and that those who are righteous (or "good") are rewarded even further.
So, although the secular world might clamor for the religious aspects of the holiday to fall away, it is ever-present all the same, for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. Although the world might ignore Christ or mock His teachings or dismiss Him as a thing unworthy of notice, the fact remains that He is in everything--even a humble Merry Xmas.