The Meaning They May Not Have Noticed

Now that Christmas is over, and Christmas decorations are coming down, I have a little holiday confession to make:  for years, it bothered me when people would abbreviate Christmas as X-mas.

I always saw it as either laziness or people trying to be sacrilegious.  I never use X-mas as an abbreviation myself.  If I were to abbreviate Christmas, I’d probably turn the x on its side, so it’d come out something like †mas.  But that would be going a long way to make a point, and it could easily be misread as T-mas, so I just write it out.  That’s my own preference.

But I stumbled on an interesting fact about the abbreviation the other day.

The abbreviation is a lot older than I ever realized.  And despite the appearance that Christ’s name has been removed, the abbreviation is actually still a Christ-centered shorthand.

That’s because the X isn’t just a random letter in this little equation.  Its use dates back to the 18th century or earlier, long before text-message shorthand turns nearly every word imaginable into fair game for would-be shorteners.

The X is actually the 22nd letter of the  Greek alphabet, Chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word Χριστός, which translates as Christ.  So in that respect, X-mas is really more like C-mas.

But wait, it gets more interesting.  It was common practice for Greeks to refer to Christ solely by the letter Chi.

Which turns X-mas, from a historical perspective, at least, back into Christmas.

It’s not an abbreviation I’m likely to use, but maybe I’ll be a little less bothered by it when I see it elsewhere.

1 Comment

  1. Well, yeah. This. Glad you've discovered that. 😉
    I spent two semesters in colleges writing 'X' and 'Xy' because, really, writing out 'Christian' and 'Christianity' in notes was impossible in courses that were about the New Testament and Jesus.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.