Xmas. When you see the holiday expressed that way—do you disapprove? Does X take the Christ out of Christmas? Is it irreligious? Or, disrespectful? Perhaps pagan?
If you do object, you’re not alone. Many people grumble about the use of Xmas instead of Christmas—just another sign, many say, that the true reason for the season has been lost, replaced by crass commercialism. Conservative religious leaders call it an attack on Christ.
Do you know who drew that X? You may be surprised. This week, I did a little research into the annual X debate. I discovered that lots of prominent people have been using the abbreviation for centuries. Lord Byron used it in a letter dated 1811, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary of English usage: “… but if you won’t come here before Xmas, I very much fear we shall not meet here at all.” Lewis Carroll used “Xmas” in a 1864 letter; Oliver Wendell Holmes did so in 1923.
The X comes from the Greek letter “chi,” which is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ, according to reference books. This use of X (and some variations) for “Christ” go back at least 1,000 years. The Oxford English Dictionary cites this use of X since 1485. The compound symbol made from “chi” and “rho” (called the labarum) is a common symbol today in Christian churches.
So what’s the brouhaha today about “Xmas”? It’s not a modern invention. It precedes capitalism. There’s ample historical precedent. And, it’s a religious symbol after all.