I love holidays. They allow me more time to spend with my family, to write, read and even reflect more deeply. This year’s Christmas holidays were no different. I woke up hungry and had to satisfy my appetite by sipping garri with moi moi. Oh, it was a luxuriant feeling. Over the past few days since my daughter found me at home for longer hours than usual, she had been insisting that I be the one to bathe her in the mornings and in the evenings. So, I had to do that on the morning of Christmas Day before we both rushed for the Ipad, only that she beat me to it on that day. I was more engrossed with reading the short messages that were inundating my mobile phones. As I stretched on the sofa and perused the messages, my mind began to wonder.
Let me tell you what happened, or what I was thinking of. I’ll start by sharing some of the messages with you, but before I do that, I’ll like to ask you if you have ever wondered what Christmas meant to you? It sure means different things to different folks. In fact, in one’s life time, Christmas means different things at different times. Perhaps, while one was young, one was more inclined to associate Christmas with family time, colourful decorations, symphonic renditions, carol glitters, Santa Claus mystery, motley of cuisines, or a combination of these and many more. Then as one grew a little bit more, one began to associate it with time to spend with friends, more time to play games, go visiting, enjoy the lush ambience of nature and the breezy freshness of parks. Yet, as one grows older, it begins to have more esoteric meaning or just turns out to be no different than any other holiday. Whatever one’s experience, I think we should associate Christmas with something. For me, I associate it with the Love in the Now, with everyday experience while approaching each day as though it were Christmas, or at least, should be. Morever, because it comes just six days to the end of the Gregorian calendar year, I also associate Christmas with the period of Examination of Conscience, an exercise I learnt as a teenager while in the Seminary.
Now, let me share the messages just the way they were received, unedited. I’m juxtaposing the messages I received from my Christian and Muslim friends, for emphasis:
A Christian friend wrote “May the celebration of xmas bring forth double portion of blessn and grace upon u and ur household. Merry xmas.”
A Muslim friend wrote “May the good tidings of this period be with you and the family now and always. Merry Christmas.”
Another Christian friend wrote “U’re so special 2 me dat 2day being a special day I send u & ur family dis best wishes of hapyly filld xmas wit extravagant grace, joy and merriment. Merry xam.”
A Muslim friend wrote “Wishing u and family members Merry Christmas; and Happy and Prosperous New Year.”
Another Christian friend wrote “Xst is the reason for the season, may d new born xst bring new reason to rejoice in your entire family, amen. Merry xmas and a prosperous new year in advance.”
A Muslim friend wrote “As you celebrate this Christmas may divine protection and good health be the gifts from God to you and everyone in your household, Amin.”
A Christian friend wrote “Wen God opened his tap of blesin, I laughed at dose wit cups & jugs bcos I wz wit bucket, surprise I saw u wt tanks. Celebrat 4 ur fada and he is d rezin 4 ds sezin, hpy xm.”
Another Muslim friend wrote “May the blessings of Christmas locate you and your family for a prosperous new year.”
I’ve chosen not to bore you by selecting only these eight for illustrative purposes. As I flipped through my messages, I kept wondering to myself: why don’t people just say what they want to say the right way. The contrast in the messages made me wonder: Who was more careless? Who was more expressive? Which was more worthy of my attention? Why do people find it so difficult to spell the word “Christmas?” I love those messages from my Muslim friends; they had more appeal and meaning to me and is a sign of their deep appreciation of the relevant. I know one may say I’m old-school, but I’ve learnt a lot in my youthful life. As a student of the symbolic interactionist school, I have learnt that symbols have shared meaning and therefore, the use of a symbol like Xmas with certain connotative meaning shouldn’t be crucified. Unfortunately, the symbolism in this case is contextually misplaced. The Greek letter chi (X) was used as a symbol for Christos as an initial, just the same way C would be used for Charles. However, as Christmas assumed traditional roots within Christendom, the use of X as an initial for Christos shed its glottochronological relevance as the full meaning of Christmas came to denote Christ’s Mass in the English language, with the “mass” drawn from Latinate source. Thus, it becomes a distortion of reality to bypass the richness of the term Christmas and settle for the initial which has assumed diversity of meanings, thereby diminishing the potency of the symbolism.
Used as an initial, just as C could refer to Charlene, Cael, Chester, Clinton, Chrysostom other than Charles, so does X refer to numerous options such as the mathematician’s “unknown quantity,” an obliterated sign or an extra. The use of “Xmas” to replace “Christmas” is a misnomer, popularized as a means of demeaning the centrality of Christ to Christmas. Unfortunately, our illusive disposition to abbreviate words in this age of social media has further popularized the reference which is shifting variedly as the above short messages tend to point. I’ve seen varied abuses of words characterized by baseless abbreviations which demonstrate ignorance and a signet of unserious attitude to life. I’m inclined to think that the changing denotations in our expressions as noted here reflect an individual’s approach to Christmas and its message or spirit. Words are portraits and we draw with them. Whatever the meaning we attach to Christmas over the changing experiences of our lifetime, one thing is certain: Christmas cannot be truly explained, even if not experienced, without reference to Jesus Christ. I really don’t care what day of the year it falls since it would be deceptive to mark any day as being more or less worthier than another. It is the spirit with which we infuse into a day or a moment that makes it holy. Thus, we should approach Christmas, as much as our lives, with the consciousness of our being as spirit and let the spirit of Christmas make us yield with love to a needy world.