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XMas Is Not Christmas

Christmas The Religious Feast

Christmas is the religious feast among followers of Jesus Christ, which that celebrates His birth. The story is here.

Christ's birth was never celebrated by the first Christians, as they followed the Jewish belief, that the celebration of birthdays in general is pagan. However, after Christianity first became legal in the Roman Empire, some newly-minted Christians wanted to celebrate the birth of Christ on the same day as the birth of a composite pagan deity called Sol Invictus. The Christian hierarchy approved the idea (They call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord … ?, said church father John Chrysostom); and the holy day became universal in the fourth century.[1]

Christmas The Popular Holiday

Christmas is also a popular holiday among European countries, and those countries founded by Europeans like the United States, the Latin American nations, and Australia. How it is celebrated depends on the country, but the celebration would carry the pagan baggage of that nation's ancestors, both close and distant. Father Christmas/Santa Claus descends from a fourth-century bishop named Nicholas of Myra, who became a patron of children. The Christmas Tree is the Yule tree of Germanic lore. The gift-giving and festive eating comes from the Sol Invictus festival. Christmas as national holiday is thus a pagan festival with a Christian veneer, usually in the form of nativity scenes some people put in their lawns.[2]


From the popular holiday came the commercial folly, which began to appear after the second World War in both the United States and Britain and, I assume, the other countries of the Anglophone world. This was encouraged by the governments of these countries as good for business/trade as corporate culture became more and more dominant in these countries.

XMas consists of people rushing to the stores to buy gifts and decorated cards for family, friends and even acquaintances like office co-workers. Items that no one in their right mind would buy at any other time of the year would be offered on sale (and sold) as a XMas gift. This makes ordinary shopping (for groceries, e.g.) more difficult, as there is more automobile traffic on the streets and highways, and more crowds in the stores.

The success of XMas is determined in the growth in the amount of merchandise sold and the number of people hired during the XMas season to handle the crowds, as reported on news broadcasts. This is more important now than ever as service jobs are far more than manufacturing jobs in the USA. Whether XMas makes anyone happy or festive is of no importance.

Connections Among Them

XMas is a purely commercial holiday. It has overlaid (or even replaced) the traditional Christmas holiday, at least in the Anglophone world. Neither XMas nor Christmas-as-holiday has anything to do with the Christian festival today. The majority of people in the Anglophone lands celebrate XMas, a Christless celebration that has carried over into other lands, like Japan. Only a handful of citizens even in the USA eschew XMas and celebrate the Christian feast.

Hostility By The USA

Nonetheless, in the United States and its component states and cities, there is a hostility towards the trappings of XMas and Christmas the popular holiday. Mistaking both for the Christian feast are councilors of city, town and state governments; civil servants; public school teachers and administrators; university professors; and other low-grade government workers, as well as the lawyers whom they retain.

All are reacting to the adumbration of a Supreme Court decision in 1947, Everson v. Board of Education[3], which forms the basis for the modern American concept of church-state separation. This reaction takes the form of banning of all religious expression in public schools and other government property (including parks and post offices). As major corporations are dependent on government largess in one form or another, these also restrict or ban religious expression on their property.

I could go on about this, but it's off-topic. But the point that the American State and its minions are hostile to the popular holiday out of blind ignorance and hidebound prejudice.

Christmas Pabulum, Anyone?

Some people are more knowledgeable of the difference between the popular holiday and the Christian feast. To placate the hostile State minions while trying to pull the popular holiday out of the chaos of XMas, they keep some of the more pagan trappings of the celebration as well as extract out of the feast a kind of general sentiment called the spirit of the holidays or the true spirit of Christmas.

I wonder what that spirit would be? Eggnog? Toddy? No, it will not go well as all. It will not make XMas go away — the business sector will see to that. Nor will it placate the minions of the State, for even a pagan religious celebration is still a religious one.

An Oxford Don Shines Light on XMas

niatirbian exertions

C.S. Lewis did not think much of the XMas holiday, at least as it came to be celebrated by his fellow Britishers in the 1950's.

Indeed, he is the one who separated XMas, the social and commercial holiday, from the religious holiday of Christmas. And he wrote two essays about the two holidays, which imply that historical accident is the only thing they have in common, and which assert how the XMas holiday is a nuisance even to those who earnestly try to keep it.

One essay, published in 1954, is a parody of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. He relates the tale of Niatirb, the triangular island off the north coast of Europa. Most of its inhabitants suffer through the fifty-day shopping and card-mailing trial of Exmas, only to wear paper hats and get glutted and wasted on Exmas Day itself. This is in contrast to the quiet celebration of Crissmas by the few on the same day.

But is not Exmas and Crissmas the same?

But what Hecatæus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.[4]

what christmas does not mean

The other essay, written in 1957, relates the three things that go by the name Christmas, which I have listed in my essay: The religious festival, the popular holiday, and the commercial racket. The first thing gets just one sentence:

This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I naturally shall say no more about it here.[5]

This quote is guaranteed to befuddle Americans and other Westerners, Arabs and other Muslims, and just about everyone else who mistakenly believes Christianity to be a primarily social and national religion. Lewis knew better, especially near the end of his days, when he found the Church of England in a state where the lay people believe far more than their vicars.[6] But that's off-topic.

The rest of the first paragraph is about the second thing. You like merrymaking? Good! Lewis approves of merrymaking. But he also approves more of minding one's own business. But the big retailers (who even in England of Lewis' day were becoming more than just shopkeepers) made sure that the commercial racket is everyone's business. Lewis' complaints about that commercial racket, XMas, are translated into modern American thus:

  1. It is an exhausting ritual trying to keep XMas — buying and trimming the tree, stringing lights around the house, buying what gift for which person, working down the list and sending XMas cards, baking cookies, cooking the XMas dinner — then tearing it all down after it is all over.
  2. Unless you are the unsociable type, you are trapped into sending someone a gift or card (even into going to the busy stores at the last minute) if that someone sent you a gift or card.
  3. This is the season when all sorts of junk made in South or East Asia gets pushed on customers as novelty XMas gifts.
  4. XMas is an impediment to daily life, as the crowds in the stores and the traffic in the streets make it harder to do one's regular shopping and to travel to and from work or school.

Lewis did not care that this folly was good for business. He would sooner just give the money to the clerks and write it off as a tax deduction, if it would make things quieter for the Christmas (not XMas) season.


The depression of 2009 made things less hectic. People had less money, and what they have was being put in savings accounts. People had no credit to expend, as they had cancelled their cards — or had them cancelled for them. Despite reports that claim that the depression was not making people less willing to spend on XMas, it is a good thing that the average American is now (mostly perforce) celebrating the popular holiday instead of the stupid XMas racket.

I could wish that it would last.


[1] Chronography of 354, when the first known celebration of Christmas on 25 December is recorded.
[2] Christmas.
[3] Everson v. Board of Education.
[4] Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus, in God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970, pp. 301-3.
[5] What Christmas Means To Me in God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970, pp. 304.
[6] Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism in The Seeing Eye, Ballantine, 1967, pp. 223.

Written by Andy West on 24 December 2009. Updated 29 August 2010.