The Controversial “X” in Xmas: What is the Truth?
The insertion of an X into the word CHRISTMAS (in place of the word “Christ”) has long been a controversial topic. Most folks presume that the change is a sacrilegious gesture, the common saying “taking Christ out of Christmas” familiar to all of us. Until my own research into historical facts, I assumed this was the case as well. It is amazing what gets passed on as fact, often times for no other reason than to cause trouble! In this case, I believe both sides of the argument have avoided loudly revealing the true history so as to point fingers at each other. Whatever the case on that, I am here to set the record straight.
The word CHRISTMAS dates to the mid-14th century, a noun meaning the “Church festival observed annually in memory of the birth of Christ.” It is the merging of two Old English words: Cristes mæsse, from Christ (“the Anointed,” synonymous with and translating to Greek Hebrew mashiah (Messiah), a title given to Jesus of Nazareth) + mass (“Eucharistic service”).
In the Greek language, the word Christos is spelled Xristos or Xpiotoc. The Greek letter X is Chi or Khi (pronounced ‘kye’ as it rhymes with ‘eye’). Numerous early church documents of the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches, (the oldest dating back to the year 1021), contain the letters XP or Xt as a substitute for Christ. The labarum (right) is an amalgamation of the two Greek letters, referred to as the “Chi-Rho.”
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites usages of “X-” or “Xp-” for “Christ-” as early as 1485. The terms “Xtian” and less commonly “Xpian” have also been used for “Christian” and the OED further cites usage of “Xtianity” for “Christianity” from 1634.
In ancient Christian art, XP and Xt are abbreviations for Christ’s name. In many manuscripts of the New Testament, X is an abbreviation for Xpiotoc, as is XC (the first and last letters in Greek), and in comparison, the abbreviation IC is used for Jesus.
In one respect, a person using the first letter of their name (J.K. Rowling, F. Scott Fitzgerald, M. Night Shyamalan) is a common practice seen on down through history. But the main reason for the shortened version for Christ was the painstaking process of transcribing sacred documents by hand. After all, the words Christ and Jesus are plentiful in the New Testament Scriptures! The time and space saver continued to be useful even in the early decades after the invention of the movable type printing press in 1436 by Johannes Gutenberg.
During the 16th century, some Europeans began using the first initial of Christ’s name as a shorthand form for Christmas. Early Christians understood the history, but the actual meaning became lost over time.
Another example of this shortening and first-letter acronym idea is the Greek IXOYE. One of the first symbols of early Christianity was the fish, and the Greek word for fish is ichthus (IXOYE) pronounced “ik thoos.” The word and the symbol were early statements of Christian faith. It is unknown who came up with the acronym using the Greek word for fish or exactly when, although by the second century it was common. The acronym means “Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior” with the Greek letters as noted below:
I – Iota is the first letter of Iesous (Jesus)
X – Chi is the first letter of Christos (Christ)
O – Theta is the first letter of Theos (God)
Y – Upsilon is the first letter of Yios (Son)
E – Sigma is the first letter of Soter (Savior)
Now the truth of the infamous X in Xmas is revealed and it isn’t the horrible plot to destroy Christmas as is often proclaimed. That clarified, for many, this IS a way of minimizing Jesus’ influence on the season. Between political correctness, commercialism, and the general secularization of Christmas, there can be no doubt that the habit has been grasped onto. I suppose it is ironic and somewhat humorous that those who do so for these reasons have no clue either that they are actually using a symbol with deep, ancient religious roots!