Myth: “Xmas” is a non-religious name / spelling for “Christmas”.
It turns out, “Xmas” is not a non-religious version of “Christmas”. The “X” is actually indicating the Greek letter “Chi”, which is short for the Greek, meaning “Christ”. So “Xmas” and “Christmas” are equivalent in every way except their lettering.
In fact, although writing guides such as those issued by the New York Times; the BBC; The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style; and Oxford Press discourage the use of Xmas in formal writing, at one time, it was a very popular practice, particularly with religious scribes, who are thought to have started the whole “Xmas” thing in the first place. Indeed, the practice of using the symbol “X” in place of Christ’s name has been going on amongst religious scholars for at least 1000 years.
Eventually, this shorthand trick spread to non-religious writings where nearly everywhere “Christ” appeared in a word, the Greek Chi would replace that part of the word. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries, there are numerous non-religious documents containing instances of “Xine”, which was a common spelling for someone whose name was Christine.
Xmas is a common abbreviation of the word Christmas. It is sometimes pronounced /ˈɛksməs/, but Xmas, and variants such as Xtemass, originated as handwriting abbreviations for the typical pronunciation /ˈkrɪsməs/
- The “-mas” part on the end of Christmas and Xmas comes from the Old English word for “mass”.
- Other classic common abbreviations for “Christ” were: “Xp” and “Xt”, again both an abbreviated form of the Greek for Christ.
- The Greek letters “X” (Chi) and “p” (Rho) superimposed together was once a very common symbol signifying Christ and was called, somewhat unimaginatively, the Chi-Rho.
- The Chi-Rho was also used by scribes in a non-religious sense to mark some passage that was particularly good, with it literally implying “good”.
- In 1977, the Governor of New Hampshire issued a press release stating that journalists should cease taking the “Christ” out of “Christmas” as “Xmas” was a pagan spelling of Christmas. Perhaps he should have run that press release by a religious scholar before issuing it. 🙂
- Although, even those well versed and respected in Christianity often make the same mistake, such as Franklin Graham in an interview on CNN: “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.”