One man's drive to X-out the term 'Xmas'

Dec. 25 is only four days away, but Fred Magel of Oak Park, Ill., is convinced 'tis not the season for ''Xmas.''

To Mr. Magel, Xmas should never be in season - and for 12 years he has petitioned the nation's businesses to keep the ''Christ'' in Christmas.

Gradually, he says, the crusade is being won. Signs, advertisements, and greeting cards inscribed ''Merry Xmas'' are now so uncommon that ''they have become collectors' items,'' he says.

He says he opposes Xmas because the 24th letter of the alphabet has unpleasant connotations in America. He cites X-rated movies, the signature of an illiterate, and the ''unknown'' in an algebraic equation. Even worse, Magel says , '' 'X marks the spot' where the gangster killed the victim.''

These associations have distorted any religious symbolism X may have had in ancient times, he says. Although X is the first letter of the Greek spelling of Christ, ''your average American schoolchild, or average adult for that matter, doesn't know it,'' he says.

A retired vice-president of United Film in Kansas City, Mo., Magel says he travels frequently, stopping to make a pitch for Christmas at retail stores along his way. He says he has persuaded florists, department store managers, and even T-shirt designers to spell it out.

Xmas ''doesn't look that nice, aesthetically,'' agrees John Dinardo, spokesman for Hallmark, the nation's top greeting card company. Hallmark, along with two other major card companies, has never used the abbreviation, ''except on a few humorous or contemporary-style cards,'' Mr. Dinardo says.

K-Mart Corporation also always uses the longer spelling in advertisements for its stores, says spokesman Susan McKelbey. ''There's been a firm rule on that for about 30 years,'' she says.

Among the few places where Xmas still appears are the classified advertisments, where brevity is critical, and homemade signs at local Christmas-tree lots, Magel says.

He says supporters of the campaign, including syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers, have sent letters to thank him for his efforts. Although he rings up a substantial phone bill during the year, Magel says he doesn't mind. ''The result in the heart and in the spirit is nice.''

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