November 26, 2007

Put the ‘X’ Back in ‘Xmas’
by Pastor George Van Alstine

For seventy-five years, Southern California’s way of ushering in the holiday season has been symbolized by the “Hollywood Christmas Parade.â€? During its heyday, the parade drew hundreds of thousands of movie fans trying to catch a glimpse of Bob Hope, John Wayne, Gene Autry or Elizabeth Taylor. They always got to see the real star, Santa Claus himself.

This year the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce voted to drop its sponsorship of the parade, because of lagging interest and financial realities. The City of Los Angeles decided to keep the tradition going by sponsoring it and dedicating about a quarter of a million dollars in public funds to support it. Of course, as a government agency, the City had to be concerned about church/state issues, so last Sunday Hollywood experienced its first “Hollywood Santa Parade.â€?

According to officials, about 125,000 people showed up for the festivities. Who didn’t show up were movie stars! One parade-watcher was quoted in a UPI story as saying: “It’s really C-list. They got Bob Barker, but he’s been around forever.â€?

Some Christians may feel this is just one more step in secularizing the holiday. Christmas is about Jesus, and now they’re removing his name from the season altogether. But the truth is, the Hollywood Christmas Parade was never about Jesus. It was about stores opening their busiest shopping season on a high note. It was about people spending money on the latest toys, styles and gadgets. Let Santa and his Hollywood movie friends have their parade.

I was a kid during the post-World War II years when the commercialization of Christmas really took off. Discount stores were a new thing, and their advertising was aggressive and in-your-face. It was shocking to see in ads the new shorthand way of referring to Christmas as “Xmas.â€? The marketing people answered criticism by pointing out that this was not a term of disrespect. In Greek, they said, “Christâ€? is “Xristos,â€? and the “Xâ€? is just an abbreviation. But we all understood the truth: there was a new market to be reached, Jewish people, and people with no religious inclinations. These people wouldn’t spend money on Christmas, but Xmas could open their purses and wallets.

We don’t see the term “Xmasâ€? much anymore, but it might make sense to bring it back. Then the commercial, entertainment, Santa/Rudolph/Frosty people could celebrate Xmas and leave Christmas to true believers.

I don’t feel bad that the Hollywood parade has dropped the word “Christmas.â€? I don’t take it as a rejection of the Jesus-message. Why should we expect those folk to preach our gospel? They just water it down and put tinsel on it anyway. Let them tell the Xmas story in whatever feel-good way they want. People enjoy a warm, fuzzy holiday experience.

But leave it to true, believers in Jesus to tell the Christmas gospel story to those who are ready to hear it.