Friday, December 4, 2009

"X" is the "Christ" in Christmas

This is the time of year when it seems that the flurry of emails begin to get sent around against the wording of things like "Merry Xmas."  They usually have a theme that goes something like, "Put 'Christ' back into Christmas."  I think that these end up getting passed around because people get whipped up into the fervor over stories about work places and the like that won't allow people to wish others "Merry Christmas," and instead insist on generic, secular greetings like "Happy Holidays."  I would agree that people should have the freedom to wish a "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukah," "Happy Ramadan," or even a "Happy Kwanzaa."

But, what many people don't realize is that writing "Merry Xmas," does not take Christ out of Christmas.  In fact, it keeps Him right there in the middle of it in one of the most ancient ways of referring to Christ, by displaying the letter "X."

The "X" in Xmas is from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of Χριστός, Christ in Greek.  The word "Christ" and its compounds, including "Christmas", have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years. "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.

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).

In fact, in the early days of Christianity, when it was still illegal in the Empire to be a Christian, the community used the sign "X" to mark the places where the Eucharist would be celebrated.  They used this as a sort of secret code that the Romans remained unaware of, yet for Christians, "X" marked the spot (ever wonder where that phrase came from?) where they community would gather to "do this in memory" of Christ.

Additionally, long before Christians began to make the sign of the cross, they would mark an "X" on their forehead or over their hearts to identify themselves as followers of Christ.
So, this is all a long way of saying that writing "Xmas" does not take Christ out of Christmas.  In fact, it connects us with a tradition that dates all the way back to the earliest times of Christianity, even to a time when it took great courage and strength to live as a follower of Christ. 

Maybe it is time for us to reclaim this glorious symbol and be just as bold in our following of our Savior.  So, "Happy Holidays?" No, thank you.  "MERRY X-MAS?" Amen!!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tom,
    Thanks for clarifying this. We see these symbols used quite often.
    For example just look at the vestments worn throught the liturgical year. Some times we need to get down to basics and explain to the people what we think they already know.
    God bless,