When I was much younger I would religiously use Xmas whenever I spoke of Christmas. I would even say that I was the guy who put the X back in Xmas. I was a bit of a dick back then. I was only doing it to annoy people who knew little about their faith other than the fact I didn’t share it. These days, I try not to poke people with sticks. Too much.
Xmas would produce red faces and exhortations to understand the reason for the season. Etc. They would go on to lament how their holiday was being stolen away. They would rail against Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays and insist that only Merry Christmas should be intoned during December.
I would then happily point out that there was nothing more Christian than X. After all, the original gospels were spread as a Greek text and, in Greek, Christ was spelled with an X at the beginning. The X symbol was used as a sort of short hand to save time and paper. Or more precisely to save lives. After all, in those early days being a Christian was actually dangerous. You could be thrown to the lions. A few actually were. So the X was a code so that the early Christians could meet in secret and safety.
As for stealing the season, all I could say was — well, you started it. Any reasonable reading of the Gospels would suggest that Christ’s birth —- which probably was a real thing — occurred in the spring of the year (though both June and October have also been proposed). But the early church fathers decided that it would be better to move it to mid-winter.
Why would they do that — move a celebration that honours the coming of the Light of the World to the darkest and dreariest part of the year? Well, in part because in the Mediterranean it is not really that dark and dreary perhaps, but I digress.
One of the reasons to celebrate the solstice (other than the obvious metaphor that it marks the return of the light) was camouflage. Danger, remember? Saturnalia and other solstice related feasts were common in the Roman Empire so who would notice if you were celebrating something a little different? And of course as Christianity became more popular it was an easy transition; people were already celebrating in December so they could easily switch over.
And of course, you don’t want to celebrate the birth and death of your god at the same time of year. It would be confusing and a waste of celebratory capital. And can you imagine having to do all your Christmas shopping during Lent? Talk about temptation!
In any case, the Christmas you see today is hardly the original thing which was mostly a somber time of reflection and quiet prayers. The Christmas tree? Stolen from German pagan traditions. Carolling — strictly a Victorian thing. One could go on but Xmas Eve is coming and I have things to do.
But if you want to see people really abusing Christmas — try the Puritans. They wouldn’t call it that all. You know, that Mas(s) thing, way too papist for them. You know the Puritans — ancestors of the people who now insist on putting Christ back in Christmas.
But that’s ten minutes.