(Originally posted December 23, 2013)
During one of the rare time I went to Sunday school as a kid, I was rebuked for writing “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” on a festive card I was drawing during craft time. It was explained to a room full of wide-eyed kids that, “‘Xmas’ takes Christ out of Christmas!”
There are many different complaints about the use of “Xmas”. Some people see it as blasphemous and therefore disrespectful and offensive to god. Some Christians see it as anti-Christian and therefore offensive to themselves. Like my Sunday school teacher, some believe it is the work of atheists attempting to remove Christ from Christmas. Others think that is used by those who find “Christ” to be Christian-centric and therefore discriminatory, or an effort of the politically correct to whitewash a hot button word. For a few people, it’s a pet peeve that “Xmas” is a crude abbreviation used by lazy people who can’t be bothered to write the whole word.
Many people don’t know that “X” is simply an abbreviation for “Christ”. The “X” in Xmas (and Xian for Christian) represents Chi. No, not the life force – an alleged invisible energy otherwise known as qi, ki or prana. Chi is a symbol in the Greek alphabet. It is the first letter in “Christos” (“Christ”) which is spelled Χριστος.
I once heard someone remark with approval, “X is like a nickname for Jesus!”
Some people believe that “Xmas” is a modern hipster word but it was used way before political correctness existed. An early recorded usage of X’temmas for “Christmas” dates back to 1551, while Xres maesse for “Christmas” dates back to 1100. Even before these usages, “Christ” was often represented as Xp (called the Chi Ro) or Xr, corresponding to the Chr- in the Greek word for Christ. These abbreviations are known as Christograms.
Why Greek? Well, Greek is the original language of the New Testament. The book was written in Koine, a dialect of Greek, during the first century AD.
As we can see, Chi resembles the Roman letter “X” and has also been used as a symbolic representation of the cross. In the Middle Ages, using an “X” as a signature was common among people who couldn’t read or write. Kissing that mark became swearing an oath, which is why today, we use “X” to represent a kiss.
Of course, the modern issue is that both Xmas and Christmas are discriminatory to those who don’t celebrate Christmas. To play it safe, “Happy Holidays” is the preferred festive greeting for many people in the United States.
Whatever your preference, have a great holiday and all the best for 2015!