Christmas is a month-long state of mind for me. This festive time of loved ones, parties, gifts, and religious celebrations is so special.
Disrespect for Christmas?
Many people worry that Christmas isn't getting the respect it deserves. When someone says "Happy Holidays" to them, or they see the word "Xmas," they feel that the real meaning of Christmas is being ignored.
Being a librarian, I like to research topics and clarify misunderstandings. Here's the scoop on the use of these contentious words and why you need to not be concerned about hearing or seeing them.
Read on to find out the very innocent and proper use of these terms. For good measure, I'll even toss in some interesting tidbits about Christmas being too commercial.
Let's Consult a Reference Book on the Meanings of the Words
True Meaning of the Word "Xmas"
The term Xmas has been in use since the 1550s according to Merriam Webster Dictionary. As a librarian, I count on references like this to give me the definitive answer.
Here's the definition word-for-word from that dictionary:
History and Etymology of Xmas
X (symbol for Christ, from the Greek letter chi (X), initial of Christos Christ) + -mas (in Christmas)
True Meaning of "Happy Holidays"
I don't know who started this fear-mongering, but there is no war on Christmas. "Happy Holidays" as a greeting just acknowledges that we are a diverse society with people celebrating a number of December special occasions from Kwanza to Hanukkah to Christmas.
The actual word, holidays, evolved from the early "holy days," so it isn't anti-religious at all.
Here's what Barnhart's Dictionary of Etymology says on the topic:
Old English had a concurrent open compound halig daeg, found later in Middle English holy day, which became modern English holiday, meaning both a religious festival and a day of recreation. This eventually replaced the earlier form haliday, leaving two forms holiday and holy day.
Is Christmas Too Commercial?
"The day of Christ's birth is being taken over by consumerism." People say this, but in looking at Christmas celebrations just 50 years ago or even 100 years ago, there is plenty of emphasis on buying gifts and decorations.
Perhaps because of television, we feel barraged by commercials to "Buy, Buy, Buy." In the good old days, the advertisements in the newspapers weren't so much in your face, but the messages were much the same.
It isn't really a new addition to the holiday as people have exchanged gifts for decades. Remember all the 1880's Christmas scenes featuring a tree surrounded by toys and presents? Perhaps, some of those toys and gifts were homemade, but I'm sure many came from a store.
Let's go further back. The Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus, and no one accused them of consumerism.
A 1922 Advertisement for Christmas Toys
1870 Newspaper Article Touts the Benefits of Christmas Gift Giving
This article in The New York Times on December 20, 1870 (page 4) talks about the benefits to all in giving Christmas gifts and spending money at this time of year:
There are very few people who will not spend a little more money than usual this week, and the custom is one worthy of all encouragement. At this time of year, it would be very hard if everybody grew penurious, and refused to invest in any of the attractive wares which our storekeepers are now spreading before us in such profusion.
Homes are rendered happier by a little timely liberality, and there are none so young, and very few so old as to be incapable of feeling a gentle thrill of pleasure under the surprise of a welcome present. The soothing influence of an unexpected gift is probably one of the last things to which the human mind becomes insensible.
But this kind of pleasure is not the only good accomplished by "Christmas shopping.'' It helps trade and provides employment for thousands who otherwise would find themselves out of work in midwinter. At this moment there are very few mechanics, of known skill, who have not more work to do, between this and the end of the year, than they can possibly execute. Try to get a book bound, for instance, or any choice article made, and the answer will be. "you must let it stand over till after the Holidays."
The custom, therefore, of giving presents at Christmas, is a beneficial one for the community at large. It is to be hoped that all our readers will be either giving or receiving presents in the course of the next few days, and the man must be a sour curmudgeon who buttons up his pockets and declares that Christmas is " nothing to him."
A 1909 Newspaper Graphic of Santa With Toys
© 2018 Virginia Allain
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 14, 2019:
I agree wholeheartedly. I've been thinking this for some time but you said it all so well. Thanks for the research. Happy Holidays!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 11, 2018:
Thank you so much for dispelling the racists memes that come floating around on social media each holiday season. Growing up in the country the term "happy holidays" was often used to cover both the Christmas and New Year holidays as we might not see these people to greet them on both occasions.