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The Problem of How to Greet People This Season

Side view of two couples meeting on a city street. It's winter and there is a fair ground ride on the street.

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Do you say, ‘Merry Christmas’ and risk the possibility of insulting a Zoroastrian? Or do you say, ‘Happy Holidays’ and risk the possibility of insulting a Christian?

I was talking with a young Jewish woman the other day when she made reference to Xmas. I have seen “Xmas” used many times in print, but I had never before heard someone vocalize it: “Ex Mas.” I asked the woman why she spoke this way and she explained that it was her way of not saying “Christ.” Ironically, she was actually reaffirming it. The “x” in Xmas comes from the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word Christós (Χριστός), which became the English word “Christ.” Xmas is not a way to avoid “Christmas” but a very Christian shorthand for Christmas that has been in use for centuries.

Wishing to avoid mansplaining, rabbisplaining, and the “OK, Boomer” retort, I said none of this. I simply made a point of using the word “Christmas” as often as I could during our conversation whether or not Christmas had anything to do with what we were talking about. I confess I am passive aggressive when it comes to the self-righteously Woke.

“X” isn’t the only way to take the Christ out of Xmas; there is always the substitution of the empty nostrum “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas.” Or there is the more insidious use of “winter” instead of Christmas as in “Winter Parade” rather than “Christmas Parade.” This last is trending lately ever since Amy Goodwin, the mayor of Charleston, W.Va., rechristened (reXened?) the town’s traditional Christmas parade as the Charleston Winter Parade.

Then there is the problem of how to greet people this season. Do you say, “Merry Christmas” and risk the possibility of insulting a Zoroastrian? Or do you say, “Happy Holidays” and risk the possibility of insulting a Christian? My solution to the problem is elegant but radical. Borrowing from the Sufi poet Rumi, say this: “Let the Mary of your body give birth to the Jesus of your spirit.” Wow! If someone wants to put that on a greeting card, please send me one. In the meantime, Merry Xmas.

If you enjoyed this story, check out Rabbi Rami’s story, “Concerning Christmas.”

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”

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