Friday, November 30, 2007

Putting the X in Christmas

Myspace christmas Dividers

Every holiday season, newspapers, malls and television commercials urge you to take advantage of "Xmas sales and specials." The word "Xmas" is easier to use in advertisements, and as a result, it's become associated with the commercialization of Christmas. But some Christians take offense to the word "Xmas" and have called for the abolishment of this truncated version of the word "Christmas." So why is it so controversial, and where did it originate from?

For some, Xmas is a dreaded four-letter word that reemerges every holiday season. The phrase is literally and symbolically distasteful, according to its critics. Not only does it "X" out Christ, the religious figure at the heart of the holiday, it also represents a secularization of Christmas, what some see as focusing more on the presents under the Christmas tree and less on religious observance and the birth of baby Jesus. Other Christians, who feel that Xmas takes the "Christ" out of "Christmas," believe that the letter X is used because of its resemblance to a cross, or to avoid the proclamation of Jesus' name. This modern trend, they say, must be bucked, so that people can be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.

Charon | Dreamstime.com

Chi Rho

But it turns out that "Xmas"­ isn't a modern convention at all. It was used commonly in 16th-century Europe, when many people began using the term "Christos," the Greek translation for Christ, to refer to Jesus. (see picture above) The first letter in the Greek alphabet is chi, symbolized by an X and translating to "ch." So, along with the Greek letter rho for "r", the term stands for "Christ." So then Xmas was used to refer to the birth of Jesus as an informed abbreviation, not an offensive one. Xmas was a way for Christian scholars to refer to Jesus respectfully in an ancient language -- not to disrespect his name with a harsh symbol. In fact, variations of "Xmas" date back to 1021. [source: BBC.com]

I remember when I was in grammar school the nuns told us that heathens put an X in Christmas to deny Christ's birth. I learned about the "chi rho" later and realized that the nuns who taught me were very young and very uneducated.

theteach

6 comments:

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

Well, you are just brilliant. Some don't even want to say Christmas at all. So, I go out of my way to say Merry Christmas. Excellent post and I didn't know this. I know that doesn't surprise you. Have a great day Teach. :)

Gattina said...

What you wrote is only for the UK. Not for Europe ! There are so many languages where the word "mas" combined with an X doesn't mean anything. In Germany X-mas is "Weihnachten" in France "Noël" in Italy "Natale" etc. X-mas is only for english speaking people.

BTW I got your mail with the link by error probably because it was addressed to a certain I. Blumenfeld and that's not me. But I am glad I hopped over, lol !

Jenny McB said...

But Satan works so well into sermons around the world and do we really want everyone to be educated?

Of course I am only kidding, it really is interesting to learn about the origins of words.

the teach said...

Guys, I like to say "Happy Holidays" to people who don't celebrate Christmas but are celebrating other holidays Chanukah, Kwanzaa. But I'll say "Merry Christmas" to those I know are celebrating Christmas. If I don't know what holiday is being celebrated I say "Have a good holiday, or Happy Holidays.

jmb said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting tidbit. I don't know why but I got this link in an email, as Gattina did. Another mystery of the internet.

the teach said...

Guys, I did send out the link to some of you because I though tyou might be interested. The e-mail should have been addressed directly to you, though.