Friday, December 10, 2010

My Christmas Pet Peeves

I love the Christmas season, but there are also a lot of things about it - well, more the way that people react to and celebrate the season - that irk me. No, I'm not just talking about the extra long lines at Target when all I want to get are some new pairs of black tights. I'm not even going to mention the annoying "Christmas" songs that are played on the radio (Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer? Really?! How on earth does that celebrate the Christmas cheer?! It makes no sense!). I won't even go into the fact that the whole feeling of Christmas seems to dissipate like magic on December 26th (Forget that whole 12 Days of Christmas to which my true love subscribes). No, I will restrain my thoughts (for today) to just two points:

1. People who write or say "Xmas" - Yea, sure, we all love shorthand these days. We are, after all, waaaay too busy to actually write an additional 5 letters, and cutting those out saves us a lot of time that we can use instead for clogging up the line at Target, decorating the whole house to beat the neighbors for brightest house on the street, taking those coveted winter naps, updating our blogs about what annoys us about people during the Christmas season, etc. But what we do by saying "Xmas" is take the Christ out of Christmas.* And that really rubs me the wrong way... for the right reasons. Christ is the reason for the season, or so they say, so can we stop trying to delete him from the celebration? I mean, after all, we wouldn't have Christmas if it weren't for, well, the birth of Christ. Otherwise, December 25th would be just like the 24th and the 26th, another ordinary day. So please, can we just say and write Christmas? It really only takes an additional 0.5679 milliseconds.**

*Upon further research, I discovered that "X", which is the Greek letter chi, is the first letter in "Christ" in Greek, and that is where "Xmas" originates (supposedly, but who trusts Wikipedia?! - more on that in a later footnote). However, we speak English, not Greek, and "X" to us Americans means to cross something out (or if you're a pirate, the place of your buried treasure). That, and most people who say Xmas have no knowledge of Greek and/or etymology (which I don't either!) and so cannot claim this as their reason for saying Xmas. Now, if you're a Greek scholar, etymologist, linguist, etc. then you may make a valid argument and it will no longer irk me if you say it. But no one else!

**OK, as a scientist, I should not quote numerical values that are not accurate and/or precise. (Let's hope none of my students are reading this.) But I don't have a stopwatch handy with enough precision to calculate how much longer it actually takes to say "Christmas" versus "Xmas". Furthermore, the time difference it takes to write these two words would also depend on the person, which just introduces way too much variability into the experiment for this chemist's personal comfort. So we'll just have to live with my educated guess.

2. People who get disturbed by "Xmas" but forget about the etymology of the second part of Christmas - In reference to my first pet peeve, I love when people recognize that Christ belongs in Christmas. But what about the rest of the word? I really have to wonder sometimes where they think "mas" originates. According to Google, "mas" generates the following top hits:

Wikipedia even lists some meanings for the word "mas" - like an album by Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz or a fictional superhero from Teen Titans.The abbreviation MAS has meanings in computing, science, politics, and academics... the list just goes on. 

Yet, none of these seem even remotely acceptable. So what, just what, could be the origin of the rest of the word "Christmas"? I can hear you begging through the cyberwaves - please, oh please, tell us the answer already! Let's turn to trusty*** Wikipedia:
The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Christes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass).
Intriguing! What is this "holy mass" to which they are referring? Well, if we continue to trust Wikipedia's basic knowledge, we will discover that the holy Mass refers to the Eucharistic celebration and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church! Let the trumpet blasts, bells ringing, and other exciting sounds of wonder and awe ensue. We have finally figured it out! The origin of the second part of the word Christmas refers to the Mass! I, personally, feel much more enlightened now (no, I actually do).

But to my point, yes, keeping Christ in Christmas is important, but where can we encounter Christ in his perfect sacrifice - body, blood, soul, and divinity? Why, the Mass! Without his birth, there could be no sacrifice, and therefore could be no celebration of the Mass. And so, we come full circle. Christmas is the celebration of his birth in light of the redemption of mankind, and we are able to experience this, along with all the angels and saints in heaven, through the Mass. So I ask everyone out there - why wouldn't you want to recognize and celebrate all of Christmas - not just the "Christ" part but the "mas" part too?

I honestly don't know the answers to this, but I am curious. Until I come to understand the reasons that each person has behind not wanting to experience the Mass (or even better, until everyone is evangelized and becomes Catholic!!!!), it will continue to irritate me just a bit when people complain about taking Christ out of Christmas but ignore the act of taking Mass out of Christmas. However, I will bite my Christian tongue from making a snide or sarcastic retort and instead try to use these moments as learning experiences. It only takes one person at a time to change the world, bit by bit. Let us pray that our society can return to the true origins and meaning of Christmas, in its entirety.

***I usually turn to Wikipedia in my moments of forgotten knowledge (which, let's face it, don't really happen too often) and when I need to find basic information on a topic to get me started (I never cite it in a scientific paper... doesn't mean I didn't start my search there, though!). However, I was shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, when I read part of the thread on Christmas. I quote:
...several similar mythological figures, known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and Santa Claus among other names, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season.
I'm sorry... did I miss the memo? When did Saint Nicholas become a "mythological figure"? The last I checked, St. Nicholas was a bishop in the 3rd and 4th centuries who was known for leaving secret gifts in little children's shoes. He also happens to have numerous miracles attributed to his intercession. I, for one, happen to know that he exists because every year on his feast day (December 6th), I get fun treats in my stocking. He even used to give me Beanie Babies! (who knows how long I'd been praying for one of those before I finally got one in my stocking. They were all the rage when I was in elementary school. Everyone had one... or a few hundred. Except me.) So, no, Wikipedia, St. Nicholas is NOT a mythical figure. Think of all the hopes and dreams that were just ruined for all the youth who read Wikipedia articles on Christmas! Next thing you know, you're going to claim that the tooth fairy doesn't really have wings but instead drives an unusual flying motorcar to get from house to house! Actually, that wouldn't surprise me now that I watch that video... Truly Scrumptious could totally be the tooth fairy. She even has the name for it! Tricking children into eating treats so she gets their teeth earlier... despicable.


  1. Oh fun fact! Xmas is a way of shorthanding Christ's name from the Greek. X being the first letter of Christ's name in the Greek. So even when people think theyre making it more secular by saying xmas- theyre still using Christ's name haha. but of course always best to use CHRISTmas. :)

  2. I know, I discovered that when I was writing this! I thought it was interesting. Xmas still bothers me though... lol, if you didn't get that from the entry.

  3. great post! and actually Wikipedia isn't bad- just check facts by looking at the references at the end of the entry :)

  4. thanks! i still am a wikipedia nut... i actually use it to start searches for my scientific research!


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