|This 1922 Ladies' Home Journal advertisement uses "Xmas",|
"Xmas" is a common abbreviation of the word "Christmas". It is sometimes pronounced /ˈɛksməs/, but it, and variants such as "Xtemass", originated as handwriting abbreviations for the typical pronunciation, /ˈkrɪsməs/. The "-mas" part is from the Latin-derived Old English word for "mass", while the "X" comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, translated as "Christ".
Style guides and etiquette
"Xmas" is deprecated by modern guides for writing styles. Style guides at the New York Times, The Times, The Guardian, and the BBC all rule out its use, where possible. Millicent Fenwick, in the 1948 Vogue's Book of Etiquette states that "'Xmas' should never be used" in greeting cards. The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage states that the spelling should be considered informal and restricted to contexts where concision is valued, such as headlines and greeting cards. The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, while acknowledging the ancient and respectful use of "Xmas" in the past, states that the spelling should never be used in formal writing.
|"Xmas" used on a Christmas postcard, 1910,|
Usage in English
In the United Kingdom and among the English, use of "Xmas" is found in a letter from George Woodward in 1753. Lord Byron used the term in 1811, as did Samuel Coleridge (1801) and Lewis Carroll (1864). In the United States, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. used the term in a letter dated 1923. Since at least the late 19th century, "Xmas" has been in use in various other English-language nations. Quotations with the word can be found in texts written in Canada,
and the word has been used in Australia, and in the Caribbean. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage stated that modern use of the term is largely limited to advertisements, headlines and banners, where its conciseness is valued. The association with commerce "has done nothing for its reputation", according to the dictionary.
In the United Kingdom, the former Church of England Bishop of Blackburn, Alan Chesters, once recommended to his clergy that they avoid the spelling.
In the United States, in 1977 New Hampshire Governor Meldrim Thomson sent out a press release saying that he wanted journalists to keep the "Christ" in Christmas, and not call it Xmas—which he asserted was a pagan spelling of Christmas.
Usage of "X" for "Christ"
For the article about the "ΧΡ" symbol see Chi Rho.
The labarum, often called the Chi-Rho, is a Christian symbol representing Christ.,
The abbreviation of Christmas as "Xmas" is the source of disagreement among Christians who observe the holiday. Dennis Bratcher, writing for a website for Christians, states "there are always those who loudly decry the use of the abbreviation 'Xmas' as some kind of blasphemy against Christ and Christianity". Among them are evangelist Franklin Graham and CNN journalist Roland Martin. Graham stated in an interview:
"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."
Martin likewise relates the use of "Xmas" to his growing concerns of increasing commercialization and secularization of one of Christianity's highest holy days.Bratcher posits that those who dislike abbreviating the word are unfamiliar with a long history of Christians using X in place of "Christ" for various purposes.
The word "Christ" and its compounds, including "Christmas", have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern "Xmas" was commonly used. "Christ" was often written as "XP" or "Xt"; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ and ρ used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for "Christ"), and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ. The labarum, an amalgamation of the two Greek letters rendered as ☧, is a symbol often used to represent Christ in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian Churches.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of "X-" or "Xp-" for "Christ-" as early as 1485. The terms "Xpian" and "Xtian" have also been used for "Christian". The dictionary further cites usage of "Xtianity" for "Christianity" from 1634. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from "educated Englishmen who knew their Greek".
In ancient Christian art, χ and χρ are abbreviations for Christ's name. In many manuscripts of the New Testament and icons, X is an abbreviation for Christos, as is XC (the first and last letters in Greek, using the lunate sigma); compare IC for Jesus in Greek.
Other uses of "X" for "Chris-"
The proper names containing the name "Christ" other than aforementioned are rarely abbreviated in this way (e.g., Hayden Xensen for the actor name "Hayden Christensen"). This apparent usage of "X" to spell the syllable "kris" (rather than the sounds "ks") has extended to "xtal" for "crystal" (although in radio electronics "xmtr" is used for "transmitter" and "xcvr" is used for "transceiver" even though neither begins with a "ch" sound), "Xtine" for "Christine", and on florists' signs "xant" for "chrysanthemum" (though these words are not etymologically related to "Christ": "crystal" comes from a Greek word meaning "ice", and "chrysanthemum" comes from Greek words meaning "golden flower", while "Christ" comes from a Greek word meaning "anointed").
In the 17th and 18th Centuries, "Xene" and "Exene" were common spellings of the given name Christene. Christina Aguilera has at times gone by the name Xtina (the "t" should not be considered redundant as, as is noted above, "Christ" was often shortened historically to "Xt" not just X).
In popular culture
In the animated television show Futurama, which is set in the 31st century, Xmas, pronounced /ˈɛksməs/, is the official name for the day formerly known as Christmas (which, in the episode, has become an "archaic pronunciation").