The StarTribune published an article last week about Christmas music. The point of the article was that most people today are annoyed with how early, how often, and how much they are assaulted with the sound of holiday music in stores, on the radio, and pretty much everywhere they go throughout the months of November and December. What caught my eye and captured my attention most, however, was a little fine-print detail you almost had to read between the lines to see.

The titles and words to some of the more famous songs were included in the article, and “four collie birds,” rather than “four calling birds” was listed as part of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” There was an asterisk after the word “collie,” and it took me to an Editor’s Note at the bottom of the page, explaining that “collie bird” was an old English term for a blackbird, and that “calling birds” was a modern corruption of that. I smiled as the note continued: “We’ve been singing it wrong all this time too.”

Just a few days before this, I learned about another holiday misinterpretation. An editor friend of mine posted information about the origin and appropriateness of “Xmas.” For years, people have complained about commercial establishments and individuals “taking Christ out of Christmas” by abbreviating it “Xmas.” The truth, however, is that “X” is the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ,” and that Greeks sometimes used the X as an abbreviation for Christ. So “Xmas” is not taking Christ out of Christmas, but simply abbreviating his name. And the abbreviation has a religious basis, not a secular or commercial one. Not only that, but usage of the term “Xmas” dates back at least to the 1500s, with many examples of its use in the centuries between then and now – which means it’s not even true that modern retailers were the ones who started it.

This all makes me wonder what other assumptions, mistakes, and misinterpretations I’ve come to accept as true. Some of them are minor and inconsequential, like the slight variation of words in a song. Some are more significant, such as those that reflect a conflict or corruption of religious beliefs and practices.

It’s sad – especially during the Christmas season – that such mistakes and misunderstandings cause so much friction between individuals and entire groups of people. And it’s ironic that because of them, ill will and accusations replace the “peace on earth and good will toward all” that this season is supposed to encourage and represent.

So let’s change that this year and in the years to come. Instead of assuming that anyone is trying to dilute or replace our own religious beliefs, let’s replace those assumptions with more powerful and positive ones. Let’s assume that anyone who offers holiday greetings to us, no matter what words or abbreviations they use to express them, means to convey joy and good wishes. Let’s assume that holiday music, no matter where or how often we hear it, is meant to uplift our spirits and put us all in a festive mood. And let’s assume – and let our words and actions show it to be true – that the key to peace on earth and good will toward all resides within each one of us. At Christmas, and throughout the year.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on December 20, 2012.
©Betty Liedtke, 2012

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