One of the arguments that heat up during the Yuletide is the Xmas vs Christmas controversy. There is always a debate on whether Christmas should be abbreviated as Xmas or not. According to many people, the ‘X’ in “Xmas” is not of Christian origin. These people hold that the replacement of “Christ” with an “X” is a deliberate attempt by secularists to shift attention from Jesus, who is the sole reason for the celebration. In fact, some people see this abbreviation as meaning “Cancelling Christ”, hereby insinuating the “X” is Anti-Christ. Someone also insisted Xmas was deliberately inserted on the day Christmas is celebrated to replace Christ’s birthday with that of Malcolm X. But the question you should ask yourself is, is Xmas and Christmas one and same thing? Are they both referring to the annual feast Christians celebrate on 25 December? But before you arrive at a conclusion, let’s first trace the etymology of the term, “Xmas”.
The Etymology of ‘Xmas
In the Greek language, the 22nd letter of the alphabet is ‘chi’, which is represented by ’X/?’ (just the way alpha is represented by A/?) and is pronounced /kh/. Further, the term for “anointed one” is spelt as “X??o???”, which is transliterated as ‘Christos’ and has been shortened today to ‘Christ’. Also, the Greek abbreviations for ‘Christ’ (X??o???) are X, Xt, and Xp. It should, therefore, not be a surprise that X is used to replace ‘Christ’ in Christmas to form ‘Xmas’.
Why the Recent Rejection of the Term
It is uncertain why the term is suddenly drawing negative attentions despite existing in writing since 1100. Initially, the word, Christmas (which is a compound formed by combining Christ + Mass) was spelt Xres Mæsse during the 12th century. By the 16th century, its spelling has changed to Xtemas. This has metamorphosed to Xmas, as is seen today. Some etymologists have, however, claimed that Xmas is an abbreviation of Christmas that came into existence in the 16th century; a claim that will soon be disproved of.
Was the Term Initially Spelt as “Christmas”?
Answering this question will require that you find scripts written during the time Christmas came into existence. But then, the history of Christmas itself is shrouded in controversy. However, the Roman Sun God origin sounds more logical and will, hence, be used for this essay. Anyway, since we don’t have access to scripts written in the 2nd or 3rd century, where Christmas was mentioned, we have to apply another option here – logic.
To start with, Jesus Christ was a Jew and so his name wasn’t even Jesus to start with (his Jewish name was Yehoshua). ‘Jesus’ is a corrupt version of his Greek name “Iesous” just the way “Christos” and later “Christ” is a corruption of Greek “X??o???”. Also, the “anointed one” in Hebrew is transliterated into today’s “Messiah”. This is just to drive it home that “Christ” is Greek, not Hebrew.
In Greek, the alphabet ‘chi’ is represented with x and not ‘chi’ (remember omega is ? in Greek and zed is z in English). So, you don’t spell a corresponding word with ‘chi’ but with ‘x’. Furthermore, the time Christmas originated, the English were not among the world civilisations to reckon with; the Roman and the Greek were considered the elites of the time. It will, therefore, be a fallacy to claim that the feast was given an English name (Christmas) during inception. It should also be considered that while the feast originated from a Roman pagan tradition, it must have been given a Roman name (unverified by the writer for now) and, later, a Greek name (the civilisations of the period). Whatever this Greek name would have been, it will be closer to Xmas than to Christmas (because of the Greek orthographic style). Hence, Xmas (or its earlier versions), and not Christmas, must have been the proper name for the feast.
There is no need insinuating that Xmas is created by secularists to remove Christ from the centre of the celebration. Maybe those saying this have not bothered to trace the etymology of the term. Today, I believe the world knows why 25th December is earmarked for celebration and that is all that matters. However, if the problem is that Xmas is pronounced as [eksm?s] instead of [kr?sm?s], as many Nigerians do, it should be understood that borrowed words usually adopt the grammatical conventions of the new language. Nevertheless, it should be noted that both Xmas and Christmas have the same pronunciation [kr?sm?s] “krismas”; only their spellings are different.
- “Greek”. Omniglot, https://www.omniglot.com/writing/greek/htm.
- Hillerbrand, Hans J. “Christmas Holiday.” Britannica, 16 Dec 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christmas.
- “Xmas.” Online Etymology Dictionary, https://www.etymonline.com/word/xmas.
- “Why is ‘Christmas’ Abbreviated as ‘Xmas’?” Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/e/xmas-christogram/.