Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? What is the proper way to greet one another? Should we say Merry Christmas, the strict greeting for someone who follows Jesus Christ or the more inclusive “Happy Holidays,” accommodating the religious celebrations of non-Christians? Should we abbreviate the word Christmas as “X-mas,” possibly disrespecting Jesus, attempting to cut him out of the holiday?
Let’s remember, we don’t actually know the date of Jesus’ birth. December 25 was chosen in the 4th century by church leaders because it coincided with the holidays of two other religions, Hanukkah — the Jewish Festival of Lights — and Saturnalia, the pagan Roman festival celebrating the winter solstice. Judaism and Roman paganism were the other two biggest religious groups in the Mediterranean region at the time. The belief of the early church leaders was that it would be easier to gain converts from those religions if Christmas was nearer to Hanukkah and Saturnalia.
December 25 was chosen to be more inclusive to people from other faiths.
We can add the origins of the word “holiday,” here. The word “holiday” combines the words “holy” and “day.” “Holiday” simply means Holy-day. When we wish someone “Happy Holidays,” we wish them “Happy Holy-days.” We do not disrespect Jesus Christ or remove him from the season. We acknowledge Christmas as a “Holy-day” as we also acknowledge the existence of other faiths in our world.
Finally, let’s look at abbreviating “X-mas” for Christmas. Christmas is a combination of two words, Christ and Mass. Christmas, the day Jesus’ birth, was celebrated with a special Mass or worship service. Would it surprise you to know that “X” is a Greek abbreviation for the word “Christ?” In Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament, Christ begins with the Greek letter “Chi,” which looks like our “X.”
When we abbreviate Christmas as “X-mas” we are not cutting Christ out of Christmas but remembering the origins of our Christian New Testament and heritage. “X-mas” is part of our tradition.
So, “Merry Christmas” or “happy holidays?” The choice is yours. You can be confident, whichever greeting you choose, Jesus has been honored and respected.
Brenda Clark is pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ in Bellefonte.