Asked in Christmas
Why is Christmas also known as Xmas?
November 26, 2011 2:14PM
The words Christmas and Xmas are both shortened versions of the phrase Christ's Mass.
Christmas is a simple contraction of the two words and it is easy to see how Christ's Mass became Christmas.
The first letter of the word Xmas was not originally an X as we use it in the English language; what looks like an X is actually the English representation of the Greek letter Chi, χ, the first letter of the word Χριστός, meaning Christ.
The letter Chi "χ" can also stand alone to represent the word Christ, so Xmas therefore literally translates as Christ-mas and that is how it should be pronounced, never as ex-mass.
A more detailed explanation.
The word Xmas was used long before cell-phone text messaging although texting may have greatly increased the usage of that particular word over Christmas.
Centuries ago, Greek was the language of Christianity. The New Testament was written in Greek and we can still see traces of this in symbols and phrases that we still use today, such as calling God 'the alpha and the omega', meaning 'the beginning and the end', because alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega is the last. It is like calling Him the A to Z.
Similarly, the 'Chi-Rho' symbol that looks like an 'X' superimposed over a 'P' is actually the Greek letters Chi (X) and Rho (P) which are the first letters in Christ's name. This symbol, like the fish, is almost as old as the Cross symbol of Christianity and can be found even in the early Christian Church catacombs in Rome, scratched on the walls. The co-incidence that the 'X' Chi letter also looks like a cross helped it being adopted to replace 'Christ'.
So, from very early times Christians have used the Greek letter that looks like an X as an abbreviation of Christ. More recently, people have used an actual X instead, particularly if they don't know Greek.
Some people object to the use of Xmas because they see it as 'crossing Christ out of Christmas' as though this is a modern practice attempting to appease other religious groups, but the use of Xmas seems to have became more widesrpead long ago, in the Middle Ages, when European religious clerics used it as a form of shorthand in their writings.