Matters of Xmas
As little as I’ve been on Facebook lately, I’m surprised to find that it has provided more blog post ideas than I can possibly act on. For helping me see WOTY lists as conference championships, for pinpointing the common conscious/conscience error, and now, for convincing me that there are still many people who see Xmas as an insidious attempt to secularize the season by “taking Christ out of Christmas,” I thank you, Facebook friends.
With so many opposed to Xmas, it’s best for writers to carefully consider their audiences before using it. The AP Stylebook does not allow it (“Never abbreviate Christmas to Xmas or any other form.”), and your cousin may not appreciate it.
There is nothing inherently disrespectful about Xmas, however. Those who use it are not putting an X where Christ used to be. You could even say that those who use Christmas are putting a Christ where X used to be.
The X in question is not a mark meant to cancel or obliterate. It represents the Greek letter chi, which, in conjunction with the letter rho, forms the first part of the Greek word for Christ and was used as the earliest known symbol or monogram for Christ. This Chi-Rho, sometimes called a Christogram, dates back to the second century and was frequently used in catacombs and other art (ChristianSymbols.net). This was about a thousand years before Cristes mæsse, Old English for “Christ’s mass,” came on the scene. According to the OED, English writers familiar with Greek have been using the X abbreviation forms (including Xtian and Xtianity) for hundreds of years. As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes, “the form Xres mæsse for ‘Christmas' appears in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (c.1100).”
If you think they’d be receptive to it, feel free to gently nudge your Xmas-hating Facebook friends toward this post. If they’re more the audio-visual types, Merriam-Webster has an excellent two-minute video on “Christmas vs. Xmas.”
Image copyright Nataliia Dvukhimenna.