It’s gotten to the point where Bill O’Reilly has actually convinced most Americans that there is a legitimate war on Christmas – as if one of the world’s most popular holidays is going to go the way of the dodo bird. I saw more proof of this phenomenon recently when one of my Facebook friends joined a group called “It’s CHRISTmas, not Xmas.”
What is so hilarious is that most of the people in that group have no idea about the origins of the abbreviated word. It turns out that the “X” in Xmas comes from the Greek letter Chi – the first letter in the Greek word for “Christ.”
The word “Christ” and its compounds, including “Christmas”, have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern “Xmas” was commonly used. “Christ” was often written as “XP” or “Xt”; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021. The labarum, an amalgamation of the two Greek letters, is a symbol often used to represent Christ in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian Churches.
The abbreviation of “Xmas” for “Christmas” is neither modern or disrespectful. The notion that it is a new and vulgar representation of the word “Christmas” seems to stem from the erroneous belief that the letter “X” is used to stand for the word “Christ” because of its resemblance to a cross, or that the abbreviation was deliberately concocted “to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas.”
Actually, this usage is nearly as old as Christianity itself, and its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for “Christ” is “chi,” and the Greek letter “chi” is represented by a symbol similar to the letter “X” in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence “Xmas” is indeed a perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word “Christmas.”
So there you have it. There is no sinister plot to remove Christ from Christmas. Now turn off Fox News and get back to shopping.