I’m all for putting Christ back in Christmas. And there is no doubt that our secularized culture is working hard at surreptitiously ushering the Baby out, without losing the murky bathwater of gift-giving and commercial celebration. But I’d like to address the misinformed concern that the use of “Xmas” as a placeholder for “Christmas” is part of the conspiracy to excise Christ from his holiday.
First, Christmas is not a biblical holiday. There are no New Covenant feast days; besides communion there is no recurring remembrance that is mandated. The Catholics came up with the Christ Mass feast, and global retailers and consumers alike hopped on the bandwagon. So, if Jesus becomes as absent to the secular mindset from Christmastime as he is from Halloween, there is no loss to the New Covenant.
Second, and this is my main point, using “X” to replace “Christ” is not necessarily an indication of anything sinister. I have used Xmas and Christmas interchangeably with a clear conscience ever since learning about the history of its usage.
Some Christians shun the use of Xmas.
In an interview Franklin Graham opined on behalf of evangelicalism:
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, I believe, is an understandable but unnecessary overreaction.
The Greek word for Christ or Messiah is Christos. But Greek doesn’t use the “ch” combo as in cha-cha or chisel. It has a single letter that designates that sound, the letter chi (pronounced kai or key—we don’t know which), and is written like a large English X.
So Christ was written to look a little like this; Xpistos. X became the symbol for the name Jesus as shorthand to save ink and also as Christianese insiders’ argot.
In English, the habit of writing Christmas as Xmas is well-attested in history, dating well before the culture began to feel squeamish about having Christ in Christmas.
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a manuscript that dates back to 1100 AD, the festive season was already being called “Xpes mæss.” And Lord Byron was using the abbreviation as it appears today in his writings by 1811; he was not known for being a Scrooge with Messianic titles. The correspondence of Samuel Coleridge and Lewis Carroll in the 19th century was also sporting the vogue of abbreviating English with Greek place-holders when referring to the Yuletide festivities.
All that to say, X is not excluding, excising, or excusing the name Christ.
Rather than feel we need to forfeit our linguistic heritage, the privilege of employing Christ’s X still belongs to us Xtians.
So Merry Xmas!