“As if Christmas hadn’t become commercialized enough, now people try to substitute an X to literally take Christ out of Christmas.”
That’s how many Christians feel.
But it’s not really true.
While in math, the term “x” is used to denote an unknown quantity, the word Xmas has nothing to do with substituting an unknown value for the acknowledgement of Christ, even though some people may believe that and use it for that reason. Others have a tendency to assume it’s just another form of abbreviation, in line with the hundreds of acronyms we already employ in our busy lives. They think it’s a modern, 21st century way to still enjoy the western world’s most popular holiday without actually acknowledging it has anything to do with Christ.
Except that Xmas is not a new word at all.
The Oxford English Dictionary documents the use of this abbreviation of the word Christmas as far back as 1551. For some perspective, that’s 50 years before the first colonists came to America, and 60 years before the completion of the King James Bible. In fact, the word Xianity was in popular use for hundreds of years as an abbreviation of the word Christianity, and historical records show the letter X was a form of ancient shorthand that not only didn’t seek to replace the word Christ, it actually represented it.
Wycliffe (one of the Bible's original English-language translators) and other devout believers used X in their writings, and although we can’t be certain about the reason, it was probably to save time (and valuable writing materials). It may also have been used as a simple and very clear way for them to depict the name of Christ in their writings that would have been recognizable even to the many illiterate Christians of the time.
The fact is that X is an ancient and commonly accepted form of shorthand for the word Christ throughout Christian history. And regardless of the reason, it seems that modern Christians didn’t really begin having a problem with the word until quite recently when some objectors mistakenly took the word to have been invented by politically correct liberals.
If we’re going to be upset by anything relating to the phrase “Merry Xmas” surely it should be the word Merry, one of whose definitions is “slightly and good-humoredly drunk.”
So maybe we should simply acknowledge that the X in Xmas denotes Christ. After all, devout Christians (including some of the Bible’s English-language translators) felt that Xmas was an acceptable form of shorthand. Wouldn’t it be better to use the word as a means to begin a conversation about the history of language and the uses of shorthand, instead of using it as just one more way to be offended?
Keith Challenger is a speaker, author and entrepreneur. He has held senior management positions with both major multi-national corporations and small independent businesses.