Yet another old complaint about Christmas is the use of “Xmas” as a shorthand for “Christmas.” I was reminded of this when I saw a story in a nearby paper, the Torrington Register-Citizen, about the “Christmas Village” annually hosted in their city. The headline of this story is “Xmas Village opening soon.” Commenters, however, almost immediately weighed in with how terrible this was of the paper to do. For instance:

atilla wrote on Dec 2, 2009 4:19 AM:
” Please replace the “X” with “Christ” as it should be. Non-believers need not comment. “

Should be wrote on Dec 2, 2009 4:49 AM:
” I can’t believe the headline reads “XMAS VILLAGE”, should be CHRISTMAS VILLAGE ” …

Get it straight wrote on Dec 2, 2009 8:13 AM:
” The name of it is CHRISTMAS VILLAGE. It’s not “X mas Village”!!!!! What is wrong with you people down there???!!! “

That’s just a sampling … many of the comments say pretty much the same.

For the record, however, “Xmas” is just as valid a way to name the holiday celebrating Jesus’ birth, as “Christmas.” It is not “disrespectful,” since the “X” in “Xmas” literally means “Christ.”

Allow me to explain.

The Greek letter Χ or chi is the the first letter in “Christ” as the Greeks wrote it (i.e., Χριστος or Christos). In Christianity’s earliest days the most common language spoken by Christians was Greek. And they often abbreviated the name “Christ” by using the single letter Χ or chi. (Note that this was but one of many ancient scribal “shortcuts” which were used, to help speed up writing. The modern ampersand or “and-symbol,” “&,” is another remnant of a different — but similar — shortcut.)

Now, as it happens, in other languages there is no single letter for the Greek Χ, since they did not have such a sound, or they wrote it in a different way (such as the “CH” digraph). So instead of the Greek chi, they wrote another similar-shaped letter, that being “X,” which ended up being a letter in English.

That’s really all there is to this. In a very real way, there truly is an “X” in “Christmas,” because the “X” literally means “Christ”!

It turns out that there are many other symbols or replacements for “Christ” or “Jesus Christ” which continue to be used even today, such as the IHS monograph (which figured prominently in one of my blog entries this past April). Another is the chi-rho, a symbol which is a concatenation of the first two Greek letters in Christos, i.e. Χ and Ρ (chi and rho).

These and other similar symbols and shortcuts are known collectively as christograms. The “X” as used in “Xmas,” then, is just another of these christograms. Not one of these was ever intended as “disrespectful.” They are, instead, just alternative ways of writing “Christ” or “Jesus” or both.

This is not, of course, the first time that comments on Register-Citizen Web articles have betrayed ignorance on the part of its readers.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.