Why is “Christmas” abbreviated “Xmas”?

Career & Education

Why is “Christmas” abbreviated “Xmas”?

Sunday, December 08, 2019

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Here's a holiday surprise that only the dictionary can provide. Do you find the word “Xmas”, as an abbreviation for Christmas, offensive? Many people do, but the origin of this controversial term might change your mind.

Some people associate Xmas with a commercial, secular occasion instead of the cultural and religious ritual. You won't find it in church songbooks, or even on many greeting cards, but the history of the word is actually more respectable — and fascinating — than you might suspect. First of all, the abbreviation pre-dates (by centuries) its use in gaudy advertisements. It was first used in the mid-1500s.

'X' represents the Greek letter chi, which is the initial letter in the word (Chrīstos). And what does mean? “(Jesus) Christ”. 'X' has therefore been an acceptable representation of the word Christ for hundreds of years.

The suffix — 'mas' is from the Latin-derived Old English word for mass.

Why people would need to abbreviate Christ, we don't know, but the word is very widely documented.

For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of “X-” or “Xp-” for “Christ” as early as 1485. The terms “Xtian” and less commonly “Xpian” have also been used for “Christian”.

In “Xp”, the P represents the Greek letter rho, the source of our letter R. A stylised version of the Greek chi (X) and rho (P) is, a symbol of Christ called a Christogram.

— dictionary.com


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