By Kristen Wagner
My initial assumption in the abbreviation of the word “Christmas” to “Xmas” was that Christ was taken out of the word to separate the holiday from pure Christian religious beliefs. You know, to take “Christ” out of “Christmas.” Several organizations are currently pushed to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in an attempt to involve every tradition and be “politically correct,” so I’ve always assumed that “Xmas” was another way of making the holiday more… inclusive, for lack of a better word.
I was very misinformed. As I’ve come to learn, according to crivoice.org, Christian symbols are used as abbreviations. The New Testament of the Bible was written in Greek. These Greek letters became symbols in Christianity. Crivoice.org points out that the first two letters of the word “Christ” in Greek are chi (x) and rho (P). The chi-rho monogram was formed from these two letters, and it looks like a large “X” with an overlapping “P.”
Although evidence is lacking to prove when “Xmas” originated, by the fifteenth century it was widely used. According to crivoice.org, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type in 1436, typesetting was done by hand and was very expensive. Abbreviations were very common during this time, and therefore the church began to use the abbreviation “X” for Christ. From there, the abbreviation took off and is very common to us today. Unfortunately there are several misconceptions about the origination of the word.
Therefore, opposite to what I assumed, “Xmas” has nothing to do with diluting Christianity. In fact, a reputable Christian historical symbol reference, such as cresourcei.org, can verify the use of these symbols. The use of symbolic abbreviations was very heavy in the church, and the history of these abbreviations tends to be quite fascinating. Fortunately, Answers.com affirmed that I am not the only one who has mistakenly misinterpreted this shortening as a convenience. So, as I’m now educated with a little newfound piece of historical information, I wish everyone a Merry Xmas!