Christmas: What’s in a name?

Dear BPCWAians, Christmas is just around the corner. Retailers do not stop reminding us that Christmas is coming. Almost every day, you see mailers and emails enticing you to buy things from shops. In our bulletin today, you see  an announcement for the Christmas Service. Every year around Christmas, we have held a Christmas Gospel meeting before that as well. At the same time, do you know that there are sections of Christians that vehemently protest against Christmas? This includes a number of Puritans, some writers that you may be familiar with (even A.W. Pink), and even some Christians groups today. We certainly are not promoting turning Christmas into a shopping and dining season. But in this pastoral, we want to take a look at one of the reasons why some Christians are against celebrating Christmas – that Christmas was begun by the Roman Catholic Church.

Common contention that Christmas is Christ-mass. This is a familiar contention which many of you might have come across. The use of the name “Christmas” is opposed because, as stated in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the word Christmas is said to come from a combination of the words Christ and Mass. The Mass  is the communion service in the Roman Catholic Church. During the mass,  the Eucharist is conducted, wherein the consecrated wafer is claimed to be changed into the very body of Christ. Christmas then would be “a special mass of Christ”. The day is regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as holy and is observed with very imposing services. Masses are performed at midnight – the hour when, according to tradition, Christ was born—day break and in the morning.

Is the name Christmas today still associated with a Roman Catholic mass?   If you pose this question somewhat randomly to the man in the street, the answer would likely be “no”. Whatever the purported origin of the name, the name “Christmas” is not associated with the Roman Catholic Mass. In fact, if not for such articles protesting against the celebration of Christmas, most of us would not even have heard of such an association. Even if it did come from a celebration of the Mass (which cannot be confirmed without dispute), the day and what it commemorates is far removed from the purported origins. Take for example the names for each day of the week. Articles typically claim that the names of each day of the week were named after pagan gods. Did you know that? So, should Christians then ignore the set pattern and naming of the days of the week ie Sunday to Saturday? Well, you could, but the fact is, no one would know which day of the week you were referring to then. How would we state which day of the week our prayer meeting or student fellowships fall on? When we meet for Worship Service on Sunday, does it mean that we are meeting to worship the Sun god? Certainly not! To celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas with a Worship Service does not mean that we are celebrating a Roman Catholic Mass. These terms have long since been disassociated with what seems to be the origin of the name. We use them in our everyday lives, without association with any pagan gods.

Does “Xmas” take Christ out of Christmas? Some Christians have said that the world is taking the “Christ” out of Christmas, if the word Xmas is used. If this is so, of all the alphabets to use, why use X? Well, the word “Christ” in Greek (the language of the New Testament)  is “ Χριστός”. As you can see, the first alphabet of the name is Χ , or as written in English, “X”. Sometimes, for abbreviation, Xmas is written instead of Christmas. I would agree that it reduces the association of the festival with Christ, and would rather not use Xmas in any publication material that the church produces, since Greek is   not commonly known in our general conversation. But to say that Christians should boycott shops and not buy anything from shops that uses Xmas instead of Christmas is unnecessary. The point for the Christian is that the church and its service should ensure that the association of the day is maintained with Christ’s nativity ie His Birth. It is not necessary for us to actively protest against such usage of Xmas – which anyway is out of our control.

The exact date of Christ’s birth is not known. But it does not mean we should not celebrate His birth and incarnation, bringing the good news of the gospel to all. Since the name Christmas has lost its association with any Roman Catholic or pagan origin, then it is merely a name that the world uses to refer to the 25th of December. Is it better to refer to the commemoration of Christ’s incarnation as Christmas Day or as the 25th of December? Certainly the former, as it helps us as Christians to remember that Christ is indeed the reason that we celebrate the season – that God sent His Son into the world that we might be saved. Without Christ’s birth, there is no gospel. Let us worship Him this Christmas as we remember and proclaim again the joyful news that our Saviour’s birth brings,

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Yours in our Lord’s service,