A Christogram

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash

I promised a while back to explain why Xmas is not “taking the Christ out of Christmas.” This spelling doesn’t need to be controversial or offensive.

The X may look as though it’s eliminating Christ. People may think that modern, secular, supposedly anti-Christmas folk don’t even want to say or spell Christ. In fact, the X is not eliminating Christ. It means “Christ.”

The Greek alphabet represented “ch” with the letter chi, pronounced kye and shaped like an X, as in fraternity names such as Sigma Chi (ΣΧ). As early as 1021, a scribe used the letter to represent the first syllable of Christmas to save space on expensive parchment. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge used it in a letter in 1801, and so did Lord Byron in 1811. It was in common use by the Catholic Church from about the 16th century on.

You may have seen the symbol pictured above, the chi rho, which puts two Greek letters together to represent Christ. The chi, or X, is superimposed on the rho, which looks like our P. These are the first two sounds of Christ. Emperor Constantine popularized the chi rho by waving the image on military banners. (I know. Eeeww.) That was in the 4th century.

Everyone has a right to her or his feelings and may continue to be offended by Xmas. Bear in mind, however, the term’s long, respectable history. It’s worth explaining to someone who’s offended, but then maybe stop arguing about a letter. As one of my sources points out, we probably should just follow the holiday’s namesake and turn the other XIK.

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4 Responses to A Christogram

  1. Kathy says:

    Annie: So glad this explanation was helpful. Thanks for being open to it!

  2. Kathy says:

    Roger: Discretion is the better part of valor, right? Or something like that. I guess if we maintain that the person who’s offended should be respected, we have to apply it to people we disagree with. Sometimes challenging.

  3. Roger Talbott says:

    Got chewed out by a neighbor when I used Xmas on a church sign. If you think Twitter’s 140 character limit is tough, try doing a church sign every week or two. I went through your explanation but, as you said, chose finally to take the irenic road. Can’t remember how I fit everything on the sign.

  4. Annie Kachurek says:

    Thank you, Kathy! Many years back when the hormones were still raging and I was wanting to get into debate about all sorts of matters—- THIS one in particular that I felt strongly about. I thought “XMAS” was sacrilege. I’m no longer as feisty, thanks to menopause but this enlightening entry on the history or origin and the usage of XMAS was enlightening! I guess one benefit of aging is hearts and minds can become more open.

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