Merry Xmas Everyone!
Today it’s not uncommon for people to abbreviate the word “Christmas” into Xmas, something I am certainly guilty of when I mail out a few dozen Xmas cards out to my friends and family. Some others are irked by this abbreviation, claiming that it’s part of some plot by secularists to take Christ out of Christmas. In 2009 Rev. Franklin Graham, son of televangelist Billy Graham stated,
“for us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas. They’re happy to say merry Xmas. Let’s just take Jesus out. And really, I think, a war against the name of Jesus Christ.”
This brings up a good question, how did X become an abbreviation for Christ? What is the truth of the matter?
In the earliest days of Christianity Greek was a common language in the Roman Empire, and many of the first Christians had a Hellenic or Hellenistic heritage. In the Greek alphabet Christ was spelled “Χριστος” which many Christians shortened to merely “X” or “XP”. Since Christianity was frowned upon in the Roman Empire at best, and actively persecuted at worst, both symbols became a secret code used by Christians to identify each other, much like the popular “Jesus Fish”. Eventually “XP” was merged into one symbol called the Chi Rho, which also became popular.
In 312 BC Roman Co-Emperor Constantine was fighting a civil war against his rival, Co-Emperor Maxentius for control of the Roman Empire. On October 27th, the armies of Constantine and Maxentius faced off at the Milvian Bridge for a final showdown. On the night before the battle, Constantine received a vision from God telling him to have his soldiers paints a Heavenly divine symbol on their shields. That symbol was the Chi Rho. Or maybe not, it could have been a similar symbol called a staurogram, the sources don’t agree. Anyway, Constantine’s army won the battle the next day, Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire with Constantine becoming the first Christian Roman Emperor. Or so the story goes, historical evidence suggests Constantine made the whole “heavenly symbol” thing up after the fact for propaganda purposes.
Regardless, the Chi Rho or became an official symbol of the Roman Empire and the later Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Today it is still used by the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Chruch, and many Protestant denominations. Use of the Chi Rho as well an X as an abbreviation for Christ throughout the Middle Ages. Then in the 17th century X began to be used as an abbreviation for anything with Christ in it. Christmas became Xmas, Christians became Xtians, even names like Christopher and Christine became Xtopher and Xtine. Hence why Christina Aguilera sometimes goes by the names Xtina. The use of the word Xmas especially became popular during the 18th and 19th century as a way for rich nerds to show off how they know their Greek. Today the tradition continues, a tradition which comes in handy when you have two dozen Xmas cards to mail out.