Ask around religious or traditional circles what’s wrong with referring to the end of the year holiday season as “Xmas” instead of “Christmas,” and you’re likely to start up a firestorm of a response. Especially in recent years and in reaction to what is called “cancel” culture by the 24/7 media, there has been a very strong sentiment that a true Christmas reference should have the name Christ in it to be correct. Xmas is just a generic, non-religious replacement created by consumerist elements and taken over by those who want to wipe out religion entirely. Or is it? Interestingly, a lot of what people believe on the matter may be influenced by changing sentiments in modern times, which have increasingly ignored the actual history of the early Church as well as references to the birth of Christ.
Words matter, and for modern-day Christians, the idea of using Xmas goes right to the heart of religious belief, specifically that of God and Jesus Christ. As many notable Christian religious leaders have pointed out repeatedly, taking “Christ” out of Christmas is a war on Christianity and Jesus Christ. However, if one really pays attention to the rhetoric and its sources, the only ones declaring a social war existing on Christmas have been Christian groups. It also ignores history.
Go Back to Our Roots
Where did the root of the “X” in Xmas come from is what people should really be asking. To understand the relevance, it takes a bit of a tour in linguistics, particularly in the ancient Greek language, which was the primary script used for the original documents that made up the New Testament. Christos, the Greek reference to Jesus Christ, is symbolized with an X, and referred to audibly as “chi.” It is generally seen in this form in ancient texts: Χριστός. Now many folks will immediately jump up and argue that it’s not an X per se. True. The original script for Christos was abbreviated or truncated. This happened in the fourth century A.D. under Constantine the Great. The shorthand option started coming into vogue, and the big marketing agent was the emperor himself. Constantine decided to create a military flag with the abbreviated Christ reference on it (basically the two letters of “chi” as well as “rho.”) Visually, this looked like an elongated letter P with an X in the middle of the stem.
For many centuries since, “chi-rho” was the slang reference for Christ, and it was visually accepted so much, Church emblems and regalia emblazoned the symbol on staff, hats, scarves, capes and similar worn by priests during ceremonies were standard. Religious knights regularly carried or showed off some variation of “chi-rho” as well. However, in all these early years, Christmas itself as a holiday and ceremony didn’t exist yet. That didn’t happen until another six centuries later.
The Genesis of the Term, “Christmas”
The general agreement in the academic world pinpoints the first reference to Christmas in the year 1021. In that year, a particular scribe related to what would eventually be the English centuries later must have felt some writing pressure, so he truncated the reference in his document to “XPmas.” Again, using the Greek letters of “chi-rho,” the scribe used symbolism that was still well understood and acceptable for the Christ Mass celebration. It’s not a surprise he did. The very paper used was an extreme luxury at the time, being very hard to make, and any amount of space on the paper was real estate at the price of gold at the time. It is believed that this very abbreviation was the first time and literary ancestor of Xmas referred to commonly today.
Again, unlike the modern myth that Xmas is a grand conspiracy by marketers and atheists to kill the “Christ” in Christmas today, reference and use of Xmas existed centuries earlier. For example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a well known poet in the early 19th century, references having breakfast with a friend, Davy, on Xmas. And, the term “xmassing” was used in 1884 in a magazine still archived today and referenced by the U.K. magazine, the Guardian.
Modern Times Created New Paradigms
As a result of the above, there’s a heavy library of proof and records that the term “Xmas” has been around just as long as “Christmas” if not maybe longer, if one includes the ancient Greek references. However, today, Xmas practically triggers a visceral reaction in many Christian circles. That sentiment started in the 1980s as a kickback religious reaction to the very liberal late 1960s and hedonistic 1970s. One can easily pinpoint the perspective to the early 1980s when televangelists dominated the TV airwaves on Sundays, and social conservatism was thriving, otherwise known as the “Reagan Years,” in deference to the political conservative leadership of President Ronald Reagan.
Christian leaders, famous and not famous, pounded on the issue that society was slipping badly, Christianity was under attack with the end of times (i.e. Revelations), and the signs were all around people. This period became the catalyst for the subsequent social culture wars we see now in the U.S. some 35 years later, with Christian sentiments aligned to the right of the political spectrum and fearing anti-Christian liberalism to the left. This isn’t conjecture; it’s spelled out in the mantra that Xmas is a war against Jesus Christ himself. By cancelling reference, one cancels the existence of Christ.
There is truth mixed up in myth with regards to pulpit sentiment. History has long been subjective, written by the winners of conflicts, not the losers. However, true and accurate history focuses on conclusions from actual records, facts, archives and evidence, not collective community opinion. This is where the pulpit’s perspective of Christmas’ linguistic etymology and that of history fork and separate.
Capitalism is Not Innocent Here
Consumerism tends to be another far more likely suspect. Since the 1950s, American business has been hell-bent on mass-producing things people want faster, bigger, more and cheaper. The advent of stores like Wal-Mart and Target didn’t spring up overnight. They were created by decades of demand for consumable goods that one could use, throw away and replace for low cost in every product imaginable. The push to sell had become so pervasive in the last decade that there was finally a push-back demanding that stores not sell during the actual holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas day themselves, and many of the big name chain stores acquiesced. Along with all that business-oriented marketing, comes widespread truncating of traditional cultural symbols known for generations. Everything becomes a corruption to sell something, including Christmas. So, Xmas, naturally, is assumed to be part of the same strategy and hated for it as well.
There Really is No Original Difference
In short, technically speaking, there is very little difference between the meaning of Xmas and Christmas, originally. Today, however, modern social movements from multiple angles have injected new definitions into both terms, especially ones that fit particular paradigms of belief and social or political positioning. It’s a classic example of why studying history remains so important for modern dialogue. If we forget where we have been as a people and society, we fundamentally forget who we are.