Nov
24
2010

What is Christmas vs Xmas?

Chi Rho - image by Dylan Lake - PD

Well folks, it is the Christmas Season again and the annual argument about the spelling of the holiday, Christmas vs Xmas is well underway.

I actually support the more widespread use of Xmas over Christmas as it is more traditional and has the weight of history behind it.

The annual argument often goes along the line that “X” is the ‘unknown’ and that “Xmas” is a plot to ‘de-Christianize’ the holiday and make it more secular.  That or something similar seems to raise its head with extreme predictability every year during the holidays.

The “X” in Xmas is not the English X (which does symbolize the unknown) but the Greek letter Χ (chi).  It is the first letter of Christ, Χριστός (Khristós), and it has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since ancient days.  ” Xmas” is not something new nor is it a way of removing Christ from Christmas.  “Xmas” to denote Christ’s birthday is found in Medieval (and some earlier) manuscripts. It is a much older part of Christian tradition than the modern English form of spelling it out.  “Xmas” IS the traditional spelling of the holiday.

To illustrate a bit more the importance of ‘X’ (chi) in Christian symbolism, the monogram for Christ is the chi rho, pronounced with a hard ‘c’ just like the city of Cairo.  The first two Greek letters for Christ, the chi and the rho, are simply overlapped, looking like the letter ‘P’ overlaying an ‘X’ as in the image above.

So the next time you hear someone get all ‘huffy’ over spelling Christmas as Xmas, now you know that the weight of tradition and history falls on the side of Xmas.  The new upsurge in spelling Christmas as Xmas is not a flight from the religious meaning of the holiday, but a return to more traditional and historic usage.  For more than 1700 years, even into the time of Colonial America, Xmas was a standard way to write the name of the day Christ was born.

For more information about Christmas Traditions

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