Putting the X Back in Xmas

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

I’m all for putting Christ back in Christmas. And there is no doubt that our secularized culture is working hard at surreptitiously ushering the Baby out, without losing the murky bathwater of gift-giving and commercial celebration. But I’d like to address the misinformed concern that the use of “Xmas” as a placeholder for “Christmas” is part of the conspiracy to excise Christ from his holiday.

First, Christmas is not a biblical holiday. There are no New Covenant feast days; besides communion, there is no recurring remembrance that is mandated. The Catholics came up with the Christ Mass feast, and global retailers and consumers alike hopped on the bandwagon. So, if Jesus becomes as absent to the secular mindset from Christmastime as he is from Halloween, there is no loss to the New Covenant.

Second, and this is my main point, using “X” to replace “Christ” is not necessarily an indication of anything sinister. I have used Xmas and Christmas interchangeably with a clear conscience ever since learning about the history of its usage.

Some Christians shun the use of “Xmas.”

In an interview Franklin Graham opined on behalf of evangelicalism:

For us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas. They’re happy to say merry Xmas. Let’s just take Jesus out. And really, I think, a war against the name of Jesus Christ.”

This, I believe, is an understandable but unnecessary overreaction.

The Greek word for Christ or Messiah is Christos. But Greek doesn’t use the “ch” combo as in cha-cha or chisel. It has a single letter that designates that sound, the letter chi (pronounced kai or key—we don’t know which), and is written like a large English X.

So Christ was written to look a little like this; Xpistos. X became the symbol for the name Jesus as shorthand to save ink and also as Christianese insiders’ argot.

In English, the habit of writing Christmas as Xmas is well-attested in history, dating well before the culture began to feel squeamish about having Christ in Christmas.

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a manuscript that dates back to 1100 AD, the festive season was already being called “Xpes mæss.” And Lord Byron was using the abbreviation as it appears today in his writings by 1811; he was not known for being a Scrooge with Messianic titles. The correspondence of Samuel Coleridge and Lewis Carroll in the 19th century was also sporting the vogue of abbreviating English with Greek place-holders when referring to the Yuletide festivities.

All that to say, X is not excluding, extricating, or excusing the name Christ.

Rather than feel we need to forfeit our linguistic heritage, the privilege of employing Christ’s X still belongs to us Xtians.

So Merry Xmas!

Clint Archer bio


Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

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There are 6 Comments

David R. Brumbelow's picture

I disagree.  To those who are not linguists or historians, they have no idea X is supposed to stand for Christ.  It appears most who use it, use it to avoid using the name of Christ.  To many, X stands for the unknown.  And, I’ve never really liked the idea of abbreviating the name of Christ. 

Unless people have a decoder ring, the word Christmas is much better.  I prefer Christmas over Xmas any day. 

Merry Christmas, David R. Brumbelow

Jim's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

I disagree.  To those who are not linguists or historians, they have no idea X is supposed to stand for Christ.  It appears most who use it, use it to avoid using the name of Christ.  To many, X stands for the unknown.  And, I’ve never really liked the idea of abbreviating the name of Christ. 

Unless people have a decoder ring, the word Christmas is much better.  I prefer Christmas over Xmas any day. 

Merry Christmas, David R. Brumbelow

I object to the suffix "-mas" b/c it is Catholic

Ron Bean's picture

I object to the mispronunciation of the word Christmas.

Most people pronounce it with a "short i" sound as well as dropping the sound of the "t" which makes it sound like something celebrating a guy named "Chris".

Let's pronounce Christmas with a "long i" and remember the "t" to emphasize the cross so the message is really clear!

(Humor intended!!!!)

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

I get what you're saying! Merry Christmas!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

FTR, I never have been comfortable with the Xmas thing! I have enough people I know who don't know Christ and even more who don't know Greek.

I'm also not offended if someone wishes me Happy Holidays. Happy Chanukah, Good Kwanza, or Fun Festivus.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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