Editor’s note: The column below originally ran in a December 2015 edition of the Sand Mountain Reporter in Albertville.
I originally wrote this column a few years ago when I was working in Albertville. Each day I would work on our opinion page, and around this time of year I would get letters from people who were upset about the use of “Xmas” instead of Christmas, or I’d run across people who hated to see the use of “Happy Holidays.”
Many of them viewed it as a way of taking Christ out of Christmas, and while I guess they’re inclined to feel that way, I wanted to look into it a bit deeper.
The issue apparently has grown even more to take on a life of its own, and I heard recently our president’s declaration that “we’d be able to say merry Christmas again.” I never thought that was a privilege that had been taken away from me because I’ve been saying it for years, but I digress.
I wanted to know what Xmas actually meant. Was there a reason for all of this rage over one, single letter or the omission of a word?
This is what I found.
The true meaning of Xmas
Emotions always run high around the holidays. Christmas is a special time for many families to get together and celebrate the birth of Christ, but it would be naïve to assume that everyone who celebrates Christmas is celebrating it for that reason and that reason only.
For many, Christmas is just about spending time with family, and they have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
We do live in a time where people are so quick to get offended, and it may only get worse. You’ll occasionally run across a lot of upset people when they are asked to change “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” But still, one of the most hotly contested issues around this time is the abbreviation of Christmas to “Xmas.” Just reading that gets some people’s blood boiling, right? How could they possibly abbreviate the holiday, which is a celebration of Christ’s birth, to exclude the name of the one we are celebrating?
Unfortunately, this is something that, like many other issues, much of the general public is either uninformed or misinformed about.
And so, the issue of “X-ing Christ out of Christmas,” is allowed to take on a life of its own. Someone makes the observation that this is what it must symbolize, and that observation is passed on to someone else, and like a round in the game of telephone, this misinformation gets passed on from person to person and generation to generation.
The fact is this, in the Greek alphabet, the letter that looks like “X” is actually the letter for “Chi” and is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos. For centuries, abbreviations have been used to represent Christ in writing. Some of you reading this may even have one of them in the shape of a fish on the back of your car. The abbreviation of “X” emerged as a widely used symbol for Christmas around the 15th century, because of limitations met by the Johannes Gutenberg printing press.
The Gutenberg press was invented with moveable type, and in the early days typesetting was a tedious, expensive act done exclusively by hand, and so abbreviations were common. In religious publications, the church began to abbreviate Christ with the letter “C” or, you guessed it, “X.” It was done to save money and certainly not for vindictive reasons. So, what does “X” mean? Well, simply put, it means “Christ,” but it can really mean whatever the person saying it wants it to mean. There will still probably be people who will use the abbreviation to purposely avoid having to write out Christ. But, there’s no reason for that to bother anybody, especially when it actually means the opposite.
Regardless of what you celebrate this year, whether it be Christmas, Xmas, Boxing Day, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or you like to air your grievances on Festivus, I hope you all have enjoy your time with friends and family. Merry Christmas.
Bradley Roberts is managing editor of the Times-Journal