xmas v christmas - first christmas stampRecently, there has been an increasing number of people who object to the idea of “taking Christ out of Christmas.” Use of the generic “Happy holidays” greeting rather than “Merry Christmas” is on the short list of objectionable behavior, while others bemoan the use of Xmas in place of the word Christmas.

I’ve always assumed “Xmas” was probably the modern invention of some advertising copywriter who couldn’t fit the word Christmas in a small space, so he came up with a quick shorthand, much the way people now use abbreviations like “tx” instead of “thanks” or “brb” instead of “be right back” in instant messages and email.

So I was quite surprised to learn the world’s very first Christmas stamp issued by Canada in 1898 had the word Xmas on it. That seemed strange. Then I dug a little further. It turns out Xmas actually puts the Christ IN Christmas.

Christ was often abbreviated as “Xp” or “Xt” in early times. According to The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style by Robert Hudson, “Oddly enough, the abbreviation has a long and established history in English, dating back to Old English form used in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of the twelfth century. The X is actually the Greek letter Chi and has been used as a symbol for the name of Christ (Christos) since the first century.”

So X means Christ, and Xmas isn’t really sacrilegious slang at all. The word has been around longer than New York copywriters.

In fact, Wikipedia says the “Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of “X-” or “Xp-” for “Christ-” as early as 1485…. The dictionary further cites usage of ‘Xtianity’ for “Christianity” from 1634. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from ‘educated Englishmen who knew their Greek.’”

Of course, these days most people who use the word aren’t aware that X is the Greek letter used as a symbol for Jesus Christ. They ARE using it as a shortened version of the word Christmas. But the tradition behind the word was never meant to take Christ out of Christmas. In fact, it was the very opposite.

Merry Christmas!

Reprinted with permission from Xmas vs Christmas – It’s All Greek to Me on HubPages