keep Christ in Christmas

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Happy holidays! Er—I mean, merry Christmas! Have you been reminded yet to “keep Christ in Christmas”?

The “keep Christ in Christmas” movement isn’t as old as you might think. So far as I can tell, the slogan was coined right around the year 1920 by an organization of young Lutheran men and woman called the Walther League. These young folks wanted to display their faith more earnestly and more openly, and one way they tried that was by encouraging local Milwaukee businesses to not completely sell out to the secularization of Christmas. They asked businesses to display religious signs and symbolism, and they encouraged people to maintain a religious element in their Christmas cards. The 1937 citation below was taken from an advertisement for Christmas cards that contained verses from the Bible and not just a bland “Season’s greetings” or “Happy holidays” message.

This is just one of a few different holiday Christianese catchphrases that you’re likely to hear at this time of year. How many times have you been told that “Jesus is the reason for the season” or (less commonly) that we need to “keep the holy in the holiday?”

As with all good Christian slogans (such as the megacelebrity Christianese idiom “what would Jesus do?“) it wasn’t long before the slogan “keep Christ in Christmas” ended up on bumper stickers. You don’t see this particular slang phrase on the highways quite so much any more (apparently the heyday for these stickers was the 1960s and 1970s). Probably I’ve seen more “Smile! Jesus Loves You” bumper stickers lately than “keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers. Of course way more popular than any of those phrases is the Jesus fish. And if you’re lucky, the Jesus fish is swallowing a creepy legged fish or an alien. I tell you, when it comes to bumper sticker theology, it’s truly a case of survival of the fittest!

Anyway, in an upcoming post I’ll talk about Xmas and whether it’s a cop out to write “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.” Some people say that by writing “Xmas” you’re taking an active role in removing Christ from Christmas. My oh my, how do people have time to get into these semantic debates when there are only a handful of shopping days before Christmas? I’ll never understand where people find the time to debate these things.

Stay tuned for the definition of Xmas later this week, and see below for the current draft definition of keep Christ in Christmas.


keep Christ in Christmas [a wordplay regarding the presence of the word Christ in the word Christmas] A slogan intended to remind Christians that the Christmas season should be more about Jesus Christ than about presents and festivities. The slogan has been printed on bumper stickers (see citations for 1960, 1967, 1979), billboards, signs, and tracts.
To some, the slogan comes across as a reprimand or criticism (see citations for 1960, 1967, 1974, 1999) rather than as a suggestion or good-natured reminder.
The slogan may have originated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early part of the 20th century (see first citation and 1951 citation).
See also *keep the holy in the holiday; *reason for the season; *Xmas.
1921 “Keep Christ in Christmas” The Walther League Messenger (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) XXX. 168 : A public library in one of our larger cities is exhibiting a collection of books recommended for children. Among the Christmas books not one brings the real Christmas message of the new-born Savior. 1937 The Lutheran Witness LVI. 360 : They Keep Christ in Christmas-Greetings! Each card carries a Scripture-text in keeping with the sacred Christmas season, plus friendly sentiments that every Christian will delight in sending and receiving. 1941 Report of Cases Decided in the Court of Appeals of the State of CCLXXXVI. 637 : The defendants, on December 22, 1939, operated a truck on Seventh avenue in the city of New York bearing large signs with the words printed thereon, “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Buy Christian for Christmas.” 1951 The Northwestern Lutheran vols. 38–39 386 : The crusade to “Keep Christ in Christmas” which originated in Milwaukee some years ago has taken on a national complexion. Churchmen in all areas of our country have taken up the cry, “put Christ back in Christmas.” 1960 Commonweal LXXIII. 331 : This is evidenced in part from the many billboards and auto bumpers which admonish us to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and thereby suggest that we have not. 1967 The Critic XXVI. 14 : This type of reflection is, of course, not new: it has formed the burden of Christmas sermons and editorials for years, and found its epigrammatic expression in the bumper-stickers which exhorted the driver behind to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” 1971 The Wittenburg Door (Dec.) 11 : Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s the time when the church takes up arms in its gallant effort to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” 1974 Advent Rev. and Sabbath Herald CLI. 1392 : Every year as the Christmas season approaches, concerned, God-fearing pastors and laymen remind Christians on radio, television, and in the newspapers to keep Christ in Christmas. We know what they mean. They are telling us to make sure that Christ is not forgotten and that He is kept in His rightful place amid the our Christmas hubbub. 1979 Achtemeier Proclamation 2 42 : But this ought not to blow our theological mind as much as the perennial bumper sticker which proclaims, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” 1983 Federal Suppl. 1/s DLIX. 1390 : This is an action in which plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring that the placement of a sign stating “Keep Christ in Christmas” on the Leo P. Lyon firehouse … in the Village of Suffern, New York, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 1993 Monsma Positive Neutrality: Letting Religious Freedom Ring 219 : They support efforts to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” as it is often put. Sermons are preached from pulpits warning of the danger of having Santa Claus, presents, and “Jingle Bells” crowd out what is seen as the true, deeply religious meaning of Christmas. 1998 Adventist Rev. 175/27–56 1649 : That time of year when sincere Christians blanch at the secularism and crass commercialism of it all and earnestly admonish one another to “keep Christ in Christmas this year.”
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