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What is Xmas?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Wishing someone a Merry Xmas may yield numerous responses. If these words are uttered to a linguist, that person is likely to understand that no disrespect is intended. On the other hand, saying Xmas to other people may result in indifference, a sense of inclusion or a direct insult. It’s important to understand how this word came about and why, from a linguistic prospective, the person insulted has no basis for their feelings.

X is a symbol for the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter in the Greek form of the word Christ. Abbreviations, dating back many hundreds of years, may have written Christmas as Xtemas or Xmas. They specifically reference Christ, and are by no means a way of commercializing Christmas or minimizing Christ’s importance. As an abbreviation, when people wrote the term, they usually still pronounced the word as Christmas if they read it aloud. It was simply a convention that could speed up writing that was used as far back as the 11th century. Xmas isn’t the only abbreviated use of the word Christ. There are other derivatives like Xtianity and Xtian (Christianity and Christian) that have been used by various writers for centuries

The term Xmas may also reference a common symbol in Christianity called the labarum. This symbol looks like an X written over a capital letter P. Since the word Christ was often written as XP, this is again a direct reference to Jesus’ name. People of various Christian denominations may be well used to seeing this symbol associated with Christ without knowing its origins.

The common misconceptions about the word Xmas are numerous. Some believe the X literally crosses out Christ’s name and is meant to remove any Christian implications from Christmas. Others believe the X is a commercially motivated symbol that shows inherent disrespect to Christ, and that the word was promulgated by retailers to save money on advertisements. A few think that the term Xmas is a good replacement for Christmas because then it’s possible to avoid saying "Seasons Greetings" to people who may not be practicing Christians. A more charitable view of the term is that X symbolizes the cross on which Christ was crucified, though this is inaccurate because the shape of the cross is not correct.

As proven by much written evidence, the term emerged as an abbreviation, in reference to Greek and means no disrespect. However, language is constantly evolving, and what a word means today may not be at all what it means fifty years from now. Since people may take offense at the term, they have breathed into it meaning that was never intended. Even if that interpretation is historically inaccurate, it nevertheless becomes a part of the way the word is perceived. It therefore makes good sense to consider how others will interpret a greeting like Merry Xmas, and whether this heartfelt wish will insult rather than please those who hear it.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon278204 — On Jul 05, 2012

It's just the way people thinks about it. I personally prefer to write it down as "Christmas" but I think understanding each other's beliefs would be much better. As the writer said, this is not meant to disrespect beliefs.

By anon233597 — On Dec 08, 2011

@post no. 5: O.K. First, this is not an argument. This is meant to inform people where the word came from, not what people today think about it.

Look at the last paragraph. It says it was never meant to be disrespectful. So don't blame the writer of this for what people use it for nowadays. This is just information, not an argument.

By anon129883 — On Nov 25, 2010

I definitely agree with the previous comment. Most people who use that abbreviation are doing so to take Christ out of the word, not just to shorten the word.

Look at the traditions tied to the holiday! What does Santa Claus and reindeer have to do with Christ being born? They have done the same with Easter- taken Christ out of the holiday, figuratively speaking.

There were no rabbits laying golden eggs for people to find near the cross where Jesus was crucified! Where does this nonsense come from? Anything having to do with Christ has become distorted and perverted.

By anon57037 — On Dec 19, 2009

Removing the word Christ from Christmas and replacing it with an X that that you say represents CHI and therefore is not offensive is absolute nonsense.

Your argument states that you are replacing the work Christ with x. If that's the case. then why not just use Christ since the number of people who understand Christ as compared to the number of people who are linguists is not even worth discussing.

Your argument further states that the x is also used in order to not offend those who take offense to the use of Christ. That has no merit because you are stating that X stands for Christ and was used by the Greeks as such. So I fail to understand (unless the real reason is to remove the word Christ ) what it is that you gain by not using Christ in Christmas.

Please respond with a cogent argument. I would expect some level of wisdom from a site that makes calls itself "wise". Maybe the site should be called "let me make up silly arguments for stuff I think is OK geeks."

By anon41350 — On Aug 14, 2009

i think you're wrong. Read the whole sentence-- It's important to understand why the person insulted has no basis for their feelings.

Try the last sentence of the piece:

"It therefore makes good sense to consider how others will interpret a greeting like Merry Xmas and whether this heartfelt wish will insult rather than please those who hear it."

You seem to be looking for someone to be angry at. I think the only thing this author is trying to do is explain where it comes from. Also isn't that the point of asking a question, so you find out what things mean? Hopefully people learn things from time to time on the Internet.

By anon39903 — On Aug 05, 2009

Most people do not draw from the extensive historical context of this article. The majority of people using the term "Xmas" now do so because they do not believe in Christ and the meaning of the holiday and so they choose to remove Christ from Christmas. While it can be appreciated that this was not the original intent of the word there are a great many words whose original intent is no longer adhered to. "Bad" can mean something is really good. "Wicked" means something is really cool or good. "Gay" is used to refer to people who are homosexual. "Dope" can mean something is cool or "phat" (another word not only having new meaning but spelled differently). The list can go on. So the historical meaning of the word may indeed be what the article implies, but I'd suggest that you go on the street and take a poll of people both Christian and non- Christian and I think you will find that poor few of them are aware of this historical reference. Also, I think many would take exception to being singled out in this day and age of political correctness and tolerance to the sentence in the article stating "the person insulted has no basis for their feelings". We live in a day and age where we are entreated, even at consequence of breaking the law sometimes, to consider others' feelings. This sentence flies in the face of being tolerant and considerate of others' feelings.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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