06 December 2014

Who Put The X In Xmas

Who Put The X In Xmas?

This is a quick article for some of my friends who are Christians and are offended by the use of the word/symbol of “XMAS.” So, here’s a holiday surprise that the dictionary and some easy research can provide. Are one of those folks who find the word “Xmas,” as an abbreviation for Christmas, to be offensive? To leave out the “Christ?” Well my friend, there are a lot of people who do find it offensive … simply because they don’t know the history of it’s derivation.

In all actuality, you won’t find “Xmas” in church songbooks or even on many greeting cards. Xmas is popularly associated with a trend towards materialism, and sometimes the target of people who decry the emergence of general “holiday greeting” observance instead of particular cultural and religious ritual of the Christian Christmas as observance of the birth of Christianity’s Jesus - December 25th having been chosen for this celebration.

But the actual history of the word “Xmas” is actually a bit more respectable - and fascinating - than you might suspect. First of all, the abbreviation predates by centuries its use in abbreviated annual advertising. X is the Greek letter “chi,” the initial letter in the word Χριστός. And here’s the kicker: Χριστός means “Christ.” X has been an acceptable representation of the word “Christ” for hundreds of years. This symbol is known as a Christogram. The “mas” in Xmas is the Old English word for “mass.” In the same vein, the dignified terms of Xpian and Xtian have been used in place of the word “Christian" for hundreds of years. The original symbol for Christianity (Constantine’s Christianity) came from the Greek Letter X (chi) P (row). Which was short for Χριστός … again … Greek for Christ. They carried the symbol on their shields into battle.

As lovers of the alphabet, we are transfixed by the flexibility of “X.” The same letter can represent the sacred, the not-so-sacred (“rated X”), and the unknown (“X-ray“). Some people even sign their names with an X. On a map, the destination is usually marked by an X. Kids play with their X-Box. This is also esoteric for the intersection of the Divine and humanity. You can still find the symbol all over churches, communion bread, and church sacraments and rituals all over the world. So remember, ”Xmas“ as old as established Roman Christianity itself (even older), and its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for ‘Christ’ is ‘chi,’ and the Greek letter ‘chi’ is represented by a symbol similar to the letter ”X“ in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence ‘Xmas’ is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word ‘Christmas’ (just as ”Xian“ is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word ”Christian."

Just a thought …

~Justin Taylor, ORDM., OCP., DM.