Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
4-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Every year, even before Halloween on October 31st, Christmas worms its way into stores and shops everywhere like a spastic reflex. With the dawn of December merchants and customers are in a fervor about Christmas. Well, why not, after all?
I often hear people spell“Christmas” as “X-mas” and talk about “X-mas” this and “X-mas” that. If I ask how one spells the word Christmas I am given “X-mas” in reply, as if people do not recognize that it is an abbreviation of some other word to begin with. In Japanese junior/senior high school textbooks I have even seen Christmas written like that with no explanation. The situation is made worse because many native English speakers also say “X-mas”and themselves do not know what the “X” means or why the abbreviation is spelled with an “X.” So let’s put the record straight, and maybe readers will see it and remember. That constitutes learning: surprise and memory.
It isn’t a Latin “X” at all. It’s the Greek letter “chi” (pronounced “kai”)which just happens to look like a Latin “X.” “Christmas” is a Greek word - spelled “chi-rho-iota-sigma-tau-mu-alpha-sigma”(χριστμάς) or literally, the Mass of Christ - and “X-mas” is an abbreviation of that word. So people should be saying “Kai-mas” when they see, read and speak the abbreviation, which admittedly sounds silly.
And another things about Christmas. Everybody knows that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, which is in Canada. So what’s with all this media attention to Finland’s (false) claims to Santa? Every December a Finnish Santa visits Japan (“In the St. Nick of Time”cover photograph, November 25th) on a goodwill tour, and the media drink it up despite its error.
Published on Sunday, December 6, 2009 as “Minding your ‘X’ at Christmas.”
This is the same letter that I sent to The Daily Yomiuri on December 11, 2005, and that that paper published on Wednesday, December 14, 2005 as “Many confused over X’mas.” I decided to submit it to The Japan Times, because it is easier to get letter published there, because The Japan Timesis a bigger paper that would give it more exposure, and because I prefer my letters to be published there for those reasons. The letter was saved on my computer so it was easy to copy it, revise it a little, and submit it anew. After writing and submitting my other Christmas-related letter (Saturday, November 28, 2009 about Santa Claus as a foreign burglar) I didn’t expect the paper to print this one, because the other one is so much funnier (and better). I was laughing as I typed it. I have been printed so much this year that it might be unrealistic to think that in the final weeks of the calendar I could get another one printed. But that November 28th letter is so good, and this year Christmas falls on a Thursday, which is a Readers in Council day, that it just might be possible.
Some Japanese try to explain their idea that the “X” might represent a cross. That’s a good idea and a nice try, but wrong.
The paper edited out my last paragraph, devoted to the proposition that the real Santa Claus hails form the North Pole (and everyone knows it), displaying the falsehood of the visiting Finnish Santa. That is consistent with last year when The Japan Times declined to publish my short letter dated Monday, November 3, 2008 which was on that topic alone. Well, if that November 28th letter is declined I can save it and re-submit it next year.
Canada does not claim the North Pole. So the North Pole is not in Canada and I know it. No other country claims the North Pole, either - the U.S.A., Russia, Norway, etc. It is quite definitely in international waters. But writing that it was in Canada makes me feel good and adds to the Great White North image. In any event, the paper edited out that entire last paragraph. I don’t mind it, because the gist of the message was unaffected.