This seasonal four letter word has the ability to evoke strong feelings in many. Many feel that this common abbreviation for Christmas is lazy at best, and blasphemous at worst; it appears to take Christ out of Christmas, replacing Christ’s name with an anonymous X. Many newspapers, websites and others have styling guides that encourage avoidance of its use.
But look a little closer and you’ll see that this word has a very long history. The “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός (Christos = Christ). There are references to the word Christ itself being abbreviated to “Xρ” or “Xt” as far back as 1021. This is not really surprising when you remember that the gospels had to be handwritten and the name Christ appeared many, many times. Using abbreviations saved both time and space, the latter being particularly important as parchment was expensive. The Oxford English Dictionary cites usage of Xtianity for Christianity from 1634 and the use of Xmas dates back to at least the start of the 19th century. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in a letter in 1801, “On Xmas Day I breakfasted with Davy”, and Lord Byron and Lewis Carroll used the term too.
Now that I know I’m not just being lazy, I may use the term more. What about you?