What’s wrong with X-Mas?
Is there anything wrong with using “X-Mas”? Well, yeah but it’s not likely what you think it is.
In today’s American culture, there is a common belief that a nefarious attempt to remove Jesus from our culture is afoot. One of the key times for this theory to resurface each year is Christmas. With cities removing Nativity scenes from public grounds and lawsuits commonplace surrounding these Christian displays in the public square there is considerable support for the “put Christ back in Christmas” crowd.
One discussion that arises most years from this larger discussion is the common abbreviation of Christmas – Xmas. (I’ve always placed a dash between X and mas, but learned this year that that’s incorrect.) So, is Xmas an anti-Christian iteration of one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar? I could say something in moderation like, “not really,” but the real answer is an emphatic, “NO!”
While many style guides strictly prohibit the use of this abbreviation, it has no connotation of removing Christ from His birthday celebration. In fact, it hearkens us back to earlier roots of the Christian faith. Let me explain:
The Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was written in Hebrew. The Jewish people were waiting for God’s promised Messiah (pronounced [ma’-shee-ach] in Hebrew) [see Hebrew to the right]. More info about Jewish Messiah here.
The New Testament was written in Greek (with some Aramaic quotations sprinkled in). Just as we translate Mashiach into English (Messiah), the Greeks also translated the word. We render (translate) the Greek word “Christ” (pronounced [krees’-tos] in the Greek) [see Greek to the right]. As an aside, I’d like to remind the reader that Jesus Christ was not His name. His name was Jesus (or at least that’s how we render it in English), and Christ was His title.
So, what does this have to do with Christmas and Xmas? Well, “Christos” begins with the Greek letter “chi”, which looks a lot like an “X” in the English alphabet. The abbreviation X for Christ has been found as early as the 1500s in European English texts, and is commonly pronounced “Christmas”, not “X-mas”…thus the dash is improper.
Along the same lines, you may have seen the symbol we call either “Chi Rho” or “the labarum” particularly around Christmas and Easter. It looks like a P combined with an X [see right]. The X (chi) and P (rho) are the first two letters of Christos and this is one of the earliest known “christograms” (symbols for the Christ).
So the next time someone complains about Christ being taken out of Christmas, you can explain this abbreviation…and when someone says, “Merry Eks-mas,” you can correct them with “Merry Chi-mas”. 🙂