Christmas Discovers America

by Curt Kovener

Over the next three weeks, we’ll look at the history and customs of December 25 and how the various religious elements attempted to impart their own ‘brand’ on the holiday many of the church wrongly view as Christ’s birthday.
Bible scholars acknowledge that the date of Jesus birth is unknown. And they acknowledge that the Scriptures say nothing about the celebration of His birth.
The Christmas customs we observe in the U.S. have a cultural and secular basis from many parts of the world.
It was immigrants from Europe who first brought Saint Nicholas to America in the fifteenth century.
On his first voyage in 1492, Columbus named a port in Haiti for Saint Nicholas; and the Spaniards originally called Jackson, Florida, “Saint Nicholas Ferry”. When the Dutch immigrated to America they brought their saint with them. At the prow of the ship in which they sailed to the New World in 1630 was a figure of Saint Nicholas.
This was at the same time the religious Reformation was fiercely dividing their homeland. It was a cultural and religious cleansing.
In America, a ban was placed on the celebration of Saint Nicholas, forbidding passing out of cookies and cakes to children, a custom that had been entrenched in many religious and cultural circles.
Saint Nicholas virtually disappeared as 17th century Dutch New Amsterdam was becoming 18th century English New York.
With their arrival, the Dutch Sinterklaas transformed into the forerunner for Santa Claus in the United States.
German immigrants (many of which settled in Jackson and Scott County) brought with them a positive attitude toward Christmas. They brought their custom of setting out a basket of hay in the barnyard for ‘Christkindlein’ (the Christ Child’s) donkey on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day finding the basket filled with snits (dried apple slices), choosets (candy), walnuts and gingerbread.
As the Germans intermarried with the English, the proper German Christkindlein, morphed into “Kristkingle” and eventually “Kriss Kringle” became a substitute akin to Santa Claus. By the latter half of the 1800’s, Kriss Kringle was the most common Christmas bearer in Pennsylvania.
Isn’t X-mas a sacri-religious abbreviation for Christmas?
Many believers may be offended by the abbreviation and assume it is a modern abomination by secularists and non-believers. But the Religious Right would be wrong in spreading historically incorrect facts. Imagine that, the Religious Right are among the original purveyors of ‘fake news’.
X-mas is at least 1,000 years old and was not meant to be disrespectful or offensive.
What appears to be an X in out modern alphabet is actually the Greek letter chi, the first letter of the word Christos, meaning Christ.
There are two possibilities for the shortening: use of the name Christ in another word may have been seen as blasphemous by early church fundamentalists or it could have been done for a religious preservation reason.
Early Christians were persecuted— but not like the 21st Century believers think they are. The early faithful were captured, tortured and killed for their faith. (Of course in the Crusades of the Middle Ages, believers invaded foreign lands captured, tortured and killed others for their non-Christian faith but that is a history column for another time.)
The use of X-mas could have been a simply clue of the writer’s belief, like IXTHOS—the ubiquitous fish seen on cars driving up and down the highways today.
Either way, what many get their bowels is an uproar over in the use of the abbreviation X-mas has an opposite meaning of what was originally intended. For those signs and bumper stickers that proclaim “Keep Christ is Christmas” X-mas historically does… just not in American English language but something closer to the original Greek which Bible scholars study in seminary.