Christmas, Why an 'X' in Xmas

Christmas, Why an "X" in Xmas

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Dec. 11, 1996)

Why the "X" in Xmas?

You know the name of the holiday celebrated on December 25 every year. It is called Christmas. So why as on the store window where I saw it again the other day do people so often write Xmas? There may be at least two reasons.

There is a perfectly innocent explanation that traces back to the Greek form of the word that means Messiah. Spelled out in Greek characters, the name "Christ" comes out like this: CRISTJS or crist_V. The former is written in all capital letters, as copies of the books of the New Testament were until around the ninth century; the latter is in lower-case, as texts were from the ninth century until the invention of printing in the fifteenth century.

The first letter in the word is the character chi (pronounced "key"). As you can easily see, its closest visual (though not phonetic) equivalent in the English alphabet is the letter X. Years ago, then, people began abbreviating the term Christmas by putting the letter X for the word Christ. Thus Christ-mas frequently became X-mas.

But there may be another answer to our question that is more precise than the one just given. It has less to do with history or the morphology (i.e., form) of Greek and English characters of the alphabet than with a dearth of spirituality in the holiday.

In logic and mathematics, x indicates an unknown. In a simple algebraic equation such as 2x + 1 = 7, for example, it stands for an unknown quantity. The student's task on exam day is to know how to derive its value.

My fear is that, for more and more of the general public anyway, the Son of God has become an unknown and expendable character in the Christmas Story.

Who is more closely identified with Christmas by children? Christ or Santa?

Who has more songs sung about him in December? Christ or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

Who is featured in more yard and storefront displays? Christ or Frosty the Snowman?

What is the commonest scene on Christmas cards? Christ's birth or snowfall on evergreen trees?

What family event is most identified with Christmas? Worship or eating?

In my own experience, I have heard more fundamentalist preachers than ACLU lawyers condemn the slogan "Keep Christ in Christmas." Shame on both! The story of the Incarnation is what the world most desperately needs to hear.

God knows you by name and cares about you. His love for you explains why the Holy Spirit conceived a baby in the womb of a virgin from Nazareth. And the cross is the redemptive end to which the manger in Bethlehem points.

Have you found the "unknown" for the following? X + you = eternal life! When you do, you have not only found the reason for this season but the full meaning of life.

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