Well, we’re deep into the Christmas season and I’ve seen my fair share of Facebook updates asking me not to use “Xmas” because it’s “taking the Christ out of Christmas.” I just wanted to take a few minutes to explain the history of “Xmas” to show that it’s not a secular attack on Christmas.
Xmas comes from a Greek abbreviation, and of course, Greek has an alphabet that is different from good ol’ English, especially when hand written. The Greek for “Christ” was Χριστός and would be pronounced something like “Chi-rho.” The Greek letter “Chi,”which looks like an English letter “X” was the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ”(again, see: Χριστός) which means “the anointed one.” When scribes were writing documents, they would oftentimes shorten Χριστός to simply “X.” (And who’s going to blame them?!)
This shorthand abbreviation was widely accepted, and by the Middle Ages, the head of the Church in Rome even began using the abbreviation, such as in “Xian” for “Christian,” or “Xianity” for “Christianity,” and yep, “Xmas” for “Christmas” (the “mas” part of Xmas is from the Latin-derived Old English word for “Mass”). Of course, the pronunciation would have been different as well. Instead of “CH” being pronounced like a “K” in English “Christmas”, the “CH” would have actually been pronounced like in “chew”. So, it would have come out something like “Chiromas.”
While the symbol X for “Chirho” may have come from shorthand, it was the Church that sanctioned it as an official abbreviation.
The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has also used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.
So, Xmas isn’t taking Christ out of Christmas; it’s actually just the historical, Church-sanctioned abbreviation of Christmas. We just have to keep in mind when we’re talking about what’s “real” or not that English wasn’t even a language yet (at least not in the form we use it, and it definitely wasn’t used by officials of the church), so actually nothing in English is the “right” or “real” way to say it, meaning it’s not the original.
That’s what I’ve read in a couple of places anyway – I’m by no means an expert in Greek-English linguistics, so if anyone has any other information on the topic, I’d love to hear it.
With that being said, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Years, or just a Happy Holidays in general. As my Nanny says, don’t take my saying “Happy Holidays” as a some convoluted “war on Christmas.” It just means that I want you to enjoy all the holidays that happen around the time while we’re changing our calendars: from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Years, from the non-Christian holidays, and hell even Valentine’s Day and maybe even St. Patty’s day, too!
So, to all’o’yall, I wish a Happy Holidays!