In my town, a reporter published the headline “XMAS COMES EARLY.” This led to backlash from the community with some readers saying that the paper was attempting to “take Christ out of Christmas.” Following this misunderstanding, the proprietor of the paper published an opinion piece vowing to never take Christ out of Christmas.
Let me say, first, that one does need to be careful with their language. As someone who writes and speaks frequently, I have had my moments when my good intentions were misread or misinterpreted by my audience. So, I can understand why some would be upset by the headline, even if I do not agree with their response to it.
This short article is not to intended to make any comment on the decision to “fix” the headline for the online article or to agree or disagree with the opinion piece. Instead, it is to educate the reader on the history of the term “Xmas” so that such confusion can be avoided in the future should, and when, it happens again.
The manuscripts from which we get our Bibles as protestants come from three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) is primarily written in Hebrew while the New Testament is written in Greek.
When the scholars translate the Bible, they have a few options: translation and transliteration. From English to Spanish, one may translate abuela from grandma, but they would transliterate computer to computadora. When translating Greek to English, there are many of these transliterations. For example, the word βαπτίζω (baptizō) becomes baptize and Χριστός (Christos) becomes Christ.
Like Xmas, the word Christmas itself is an abbreviation. It is a shortened form of “Christ’s Mass.” The term “mass” is not used all too often in protestant circles, but it simply means worship service. Specifically, it is a Eucharistic liturgical service or, in other words, a service in which the Lord’s Supper or communion is observed.
Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, the first letter of which is the Greek letter Chi which looks like a capital ‘X.’ Thus, Christmas has been shortened to Xmas for several hundred years, with the X abbreviating, not replacing or taking away, Christ.
The substitution of X for Christ goes back to the days of the Roman Empire where the symbol was employed in architecture and on the shields of Constantine’s soldiers. This symbol is called the Chi Rho symbol and is pictured below.
“Xmas” may make some Christians uneasy. It also may not be wise to use given the widespread ignorance of its history, but it is not inherently wrong and doesn’t necessarily mean the one employing it is attempting to take Christ out of Christmas. While that may not always be the case, it is best to give others the benefit of the doubt unless evidence to the contrary is presented.
At the end of the day, this is a lesson for all of us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and to be courteous and humble in every circumstance. It is also a lesson in using instances like these as an opportunity for education. In times of misunderstanding, our fight or flight instinct kicks in, but we can look for an alternative option: educate or be open to education.
Happy Xmas, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays from a proud Xian.