Have you ever wondered where the idea of the “Xmas” abbreviation comes from? Is it just the secular world trying to rid the culture of Christ? Maybe sometimes – but it might not be as nefarious as all that.
As most Catholics are aware, “Christmas” itself is an abbreviation for “Christ’s Mass.” Long before non-Christians started taking “Christ” out of “Christmas,” non-Catholics took the “Mass” out! So the abbreviation of the name alone is not really an issue.
However, it still might seem kind of disrespectful to shorten “Christ” down to an “X”, right? Interestingly, it’s not only not disrespectful – it is both biblical and traditional.
Biblical History X
The first thing to realize is that the “X” isn’t really an “X”. In Greek the letter “X” is “Chi”. This is the first letter in the word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (“CHRISTOS”). That’s how Jesus’ title (Christ meaning “Messiah”) is spelled in the New Testament. So “X” is actually the first initial of Jesus’ title (for some weird reason, we English speakers use the letters “ch” for the sound in instead).
The “X” initial can be found throughout history as an abbreviation for Christ. The first and most famous usage has been traced back to Constantine the Great. Constantine was the Roman Emperor who legalized Christianity in the 4th Century and called the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. According to the stories, before the decisive battle of his reign, Constantine had a vision from God telling him that “By this symbol you will conquer.” That symbol was the first two letters of Jesus’ title – the Chi and Ro (which look like “ΧΡ”). The stylized version pictured above became known as the “Chi-Ro” – a symbol for Jesus that is still popular today.
Another famous usage comes from the early Church as well. If you’ve ever seen the “Christian fish” stuck on someone’s car bumper, you’ve seen one of the very earliest symbols for Christianity. During times of persecution, Christians would identify each other by casually drawing one half of the fish symbol in the dirt and if the otehr person completed the drawing they knew he could be trusted. You might have noticed that some of these stickers contain the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ. This is actually an acronym of the Greek word for “fish” (“ICHTHUS”). When translated, these letters would stand for “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.”
The “Xmas” abbreviation we see a lot today is itself found on parchment as far back as A.D. 1021 when writing supplies were very expensive that abbreviations were often used to save space. It’s also been used by modern writers in recent centuries.
The X Mass
If “X” is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us! So, while we certainly would never want to support the removal of Christ from Christmas, the “X” is not technically a disrespectful means of doing so. In our hearts and minds and actions, let us keep both Christ and Mass in Christmas!