Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
Some phrases get people’s stockings in a twist during the holiday season. Today, I’m not going to beat around the holly bush — I’m jumping right down the chimney to address these Christmas controversies.
Do you throw up your dukes when you hear someone wish you “Happy Holidays?” If so, you probably are coming from a place of assuming most Americans celebrate and observe Christmas. You’re right; a 2019 Gallup poll showed that 93 percent of Americans observe Christmas. However, did you know that “Happy Holidays” has Christian origins?
I previously thought that the “holidays” in “Happy Holidays” referred to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. While the modern meaning does align with this thinking, “Happy Holidays” originally referred to the Advent season, which was comprised of four Sundays that range from late November to late December.
Many churches also celebrate the Christian feast day of Epiphany, which is in early January each year. You can see how the original Christian holiday season fits right in with our modern time period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
Originally, when someone wished you “Happy Holidays,” they most likely meant “Happy Advent season, which will culminate in the celebration of Christmas and subsequently the Epiphany of Christ.” It just so happens that Hanukkah and Kwanzaa align with this time period as well.
As Christmas has become more commercialized and less religious (in general), “Happy Holidays” has come to mean a catch-all term for the time period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
Of course, the term “holiday” comes from an Old English word that literally meant “holy day.” The term only applied to special days on the Christian calendar.
On top of “Happy Holidays” rubbing some the wrong way, writing or saying “Xmas” bothers many people. However, this term is rooted in church traditions as well.
“Xmas” shows up in writing as early as the 1500s. The “X” stands for the Greek letter “chi,” which is the first letter in “Christ” in Greek. “X” was used as an abbreviation for “Christ” because the word was so widely used at the time.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the “-mas” in “Xmas” means “mass.” The “mass of Christ.” Therefore, “Xmas” does not belittle or remove the “Christ” from “Christmas.”
I’ve found the more I learn, the less I’m offended. Both “Happy Holidays” and “Xmas” have deep theological roots. Instead of berating people who use them, allow the terms to enrich your devotion to your faith tradition.