Is “Xmas” Part of a War on Christmas?
Does the abbreviation Xmas bother you? I have more than once heard it given as an example of the secularization of Christmas. The X, after all, clearly replaces Christ. So is Xmas an attempt to take Christ out of Christmas?
The answer is no — at least if you care about history and etymology.
Xmas was used in English publications as early as 1755, and a Middle English version, X’temmas, was used back in 1551. No one is suggesting that the commercialization of the holidays goes back that far. Xmas has been found in the personal letters of Lord Byron (author of “Don Juan,” “She Walks in Beauty”), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Kublai Khan”) and Lewis Carrol (Alice in Wonderland). According to Wikipedia, the first recorded use of Xmas by an American was in 1923, in a letter by Oliver Wendel Holmes.
Of course, the association with secularism and the purported “War on Christmas” is natural, since Xmas has been popular in headlines, banners, and advertisements. But it’s reasonable to assume this has more to do with saving space than with some kind of secular sabotage.
In fact, Xmas has anything but a secular history. The –mas part comes from the Latin/Old English word mass (a liturgy that includes a celebration of the Lord’s Supper). The X is derived from the Greek word for Christ: Χριστός. For at least 1,000 years, according to Wikipedia, XP, sometimes known as the Chi Rho after the names of the Greek letters, has stood for Christ in Christian art and writing.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that people today, ignorant of the history of Xmas, won’t use it as a secular substitute for Christmas. It’s just not necessarily so.
One last note: Since the X is symbolic of Christ, it wouldn’t be correct to pronounce the word ex-miss, but krist-miss (or kriss-miss), just as you would pronounce the full spelling.
Post any comments and questions below. Remember: bloggers love comments.
Another bit of history I’ve heard is that when words were still printed by Gutenberg’s printing press, Christ and Christians were often represented with the X symbol. It was simply far too costly to print Christ every time.
Thank you for your thoughtful article about Christmas and X-mas.
The history is interesting and I agree with you sentiments, mostly. My opinion tends towards this: If we are to give Christ the ultimate respect, we should stick with the most respectful name, which is Christmas. If we are talking about a secular holiday (as in a British vacation and not a holy day) then X-mas is fine for those who are not worshiping the Christ.
I prefer Christmas.