The debate over Christmas or Xmas

Published 3:49 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2022

I can’t recall the exact year or date when I first heard the Yankee accent of Frank Roberts on my phone, but his unmistakable voice and his love to spin stories will both forever be etched in my memory.

Frank was born in New York City in 1928. He joined the Army two months after graduating from high school. He served in the Signal Corps as part of the Technical Service Unit in Nome, Alaska. In the evening hours he was part of the Armed Forces Radio Service, broadcasting over WXLN, The Voice of the Arctic.

After discharge, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill, attending the School of Radio Technique in New York City. With that in hand, he worked for stations in New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, New York, Iowa, and Edenton, NC. Later he turned to television, and did work in Waterloo, Iowa, Washington, NC, and Virginia Beach, VA.

A free-lance writer, he had regular contributions for Grit, Country Weekly, and other publications, and later worked with the Virginian-Pilot, the Daily News, the Suffolk News-Herald, and the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

For many years he did interviews and music show reviews, and met many famous stars including Roy Acuff, Faron Young, Julio Iglesias, Patti Page, Shirley Jones, Conway Twitty, The Statler Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, and Alabama. With all these years in the music industry, his collections of pictures and records grew in number to over 3,000 and are now housed in the Jefcoat Museum in Murfreesboro.

Frank penned numerous columns for this newspaper and others regarding his interviews with the aforementioned musical stars. He also shared his thoughts about life in general. Such was the case with one of my personal favorite Frank Roberts columns, which I’m sharing today. Frank wrote this in early December of 2016. It was one of his last columns as he passed away on March 15, 2017.

Some time ago I got into a philosophical discussion – all right, an argument – about the word/abbreviation – XMAS.

The party of the second part insisted that XMAS was blasphemous. It should be, said he, CHRISTMAS and, since that day is on the way we, of course, discoursed on the subject.

He reasoned that the first part of the word is directly connected with Jesus’ last name.

The dreaded ‘X’ is often seen in print ads and on the tube. Someone theorized that the ‘third-from-the-end-of-the-last-letter-in-the-alphabet is used correctly when it comes to the holiday season. Some folks say the full version is correct. Some say the ‘X’ version is more likely to entice non-Christian celebrants.

But a tome with the looong title of, “From Adam’s Apple To Xmas: An Essential Vocabulary Guide For the Politically Correct.” (Whew!) has this to say: “The word ‘Christianity’ was originally spelled ‘Xianity’ as far back as 1100. It was a symbolic syllable for ‘Christ.’ The word ‘Christianity’ was spelled ‘Xianity.’ The syllable became ‘X’ in 1551, and was eventually shortened to ‘Xmas’.

So, to you – Merry – uh – whichever.

Anyway, while on the subject I will enlighten you (those who wish to be enlightened) about some other seasonal items. Hang in there.

The holiday, of course, celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, but early theologians (as opposed to the later ones) insist that to be correct you should celebrate Nov. 18 or March 28.

What says so? “De Pascha Computus,” a document found in North Africa many moons ago. It is a fact that the Bible doesn’t specify a time or date of Jesus’ birth. So, why Dec. 25? It was chosen in the fourth century because that was the celebration of two similar pagan holidays that influenced the formation of Christmas – the birthday of Mithra (Mithy to its friends), and the feast of Saturnalia. So there – that’s what you’ll be celebrating.

On a different tack, there’s good, ole bulb-nosed Rudy the Reindeer. He first showed up in 1939 as an advertising symbol for Montgomery Ward. Obviously, it was a fat success, but the store’s brain (?) trust forgot to copyright the animal.

Rudolf’s creator was Robert L. May and the animal first appeared in a promo book aimed for kiddies. It was a huge success, of course, but May received no royalties, and he nearly went bankrupt. He was trying to earn money to pay for his ailing wife’s medical bills.

The story of the plucky animal worked for Montgomery Ward, but not for its creator. It was a hit and, an even bigger hit when May’s brother-in-law set the story to music. Johnny Marks was the music man. The most famous version was recorded by Gene Autry and, therein lies another story. The cowboy didn’t want to record the song, but his wife talked him into it. The moral – listen to your wife even if you don’t think she knows what she’s talkin’ about. The cowboy’s version sold more than two million copies.

A similar story: “A Visit From St. Nicholas” almost stayed in the drawer. Clement Moore drew the Santa story using a sleigh ride driver as his inspiration. It was to be nothin’ more than a family gift – ’twasn’t meant for public consumption.

A friend of Moore, who was already established in the 19th century as an author and classics professor, sent the piece to a newspaper. It was published, but the author’s name was not given. For 15 years, Moore wanted less. In other words he didn’t want to see it in print, noting it was beneath his talents. As you know it became a giant-sized hit and, his kids liked it.

Hope all of the above is enlightening, but most of all, I hope you and yours, and theirs have a wonderful Christmas – er – Xmas.

Frank….my friend….I wish you were still around to spin a few more of your famous tales. Thanks for the memories!!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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