By using ‘Xmas,’ we’re historically correct
This holiday season, something’s spreading faster than Christmas cheer — a victim mentality that seems to be inflicting many members of the Christian community. Whether it be the cashier’s cheery “Happy Holidays!” rather than the preferred “Merry Christmas!” or the lack of anything Christian (or any other religion for that matter) on the plain holiday cups at Starbucks, Christians are up in arms especially early this year. And, there is a particularly hated word back in season as well: “Xmas.”
Growing up Roman Catholic, I was chastised many a time for daring to use “Xmas” on my Christmas cards to Sunday school peers, always reminded to “Keep Christ in Christmas” when I’d simply shortened the word so my little hands didn’t grow tired. As I grew older and learned about the history of the church, I was stunned that Christians had any issue with the word to begin with, as we’re the ones who first coined the term.
My theory is the distaste for “Xmas” is yet again an example of the majority of Christians not knowing their own history. The case of Xmas is much like the inverted cross being associated with the antichrist when, in fact, legend says it had been Simon Peter’s request to be crucified upside down, as he felt he was unworthy to die in the same manner in which Christ did. It was a widely used symbol of humility within the church for hundreds of years without issue, just as Xmas was.
The term “Xmas” — then “XPmas” (more on that later) — dates back to its Old English form in the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” an historical record of the Anglo-Saxons compiled between the 9th and 12th centuries. The “X” is not crossing out the name of our savior, as some would imply, but instead, is simply the Greek letter chi, which has been used since the first century to symbolize Christos (aka Christ).
The shorthand for Christ became part of the vernacular in the 4th century after, according to legend, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great had a vision on the eve of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, which led him to head to war with banners proudly declaring the first two letters of “Christ.” This symbol, unimaginatively named the Chi-Rho, went on to become the popular P-with-a-long-tail-going-through-the-center-of-an-X symbol many are familiar with thanks to its modern usage in orthodox churches even today. The Chi-Rho went on to be canonically referred to as simply “X” in shorthand by scribes, changing “XPmas” to “Xmas” in time.
Further, etymology experts at Oxford English Dictionaries say Christ may have even been commonly abbreviated for religious reasons, as Jehovah was in Hebrew, seeing as the “X” was not only the first letter of Christos but also resembled the cross on which Christ was crucified.
The “mas” segment of the word is actually an abbreviation of its own, short for the term “mass,” which Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans still call their church services.
Historically, Christians have always been into abbreviating — another widely recognized example is the “Christian fish.” The ichthys, the Greek word for fish, became a secret Christian symbol representing Christ in the early church, as it was a commonly used term that could be hidden in plain site. The term found greater meaning in that the letters, spelled out in acrostic style, each represented the first letters of a Greek saying which translates to “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
Franklin Graham, the popular American evangelist and son of Billy Graham, spoke on the Xmas debacle in an interview with CNN back in 2005.
“For us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “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.”
It never ceases to amaze me how uneducated even the most renowned members of our faith are on the basic foundations of our religion, considering we wouldn’t have Christmas at all if the Puritans had their way. That’s right — Christmas was once illegal in colonial America, thanks to its pagan roots, and considered culturally taboo all the way through the mid-1800s.
So, be happy we live in the modern society where you can celebrate the savior’s birth while your children unwrap gifts from the man the Puritans accused of being the antichrist — you guessed it — Santa Claus. Merry Xmas!