Keeping the ‘X’ in ‘Christmas’.

It’s that time of year again, folks, where Christ begins to disappear from Christmas…

These days we are likely to see “Xmas” written as often as “Christmas,” and this is of major concern for many Christians. Christ disappearing from Christmas is certainly something to give us pause, but this has been going on for a long time, and the way “Christmas” is written is not, ultimately, the problem.

In Koine Greek (the common language of the early church and the original language of the New Testament), “Christ” is written (here in equivalent English letters) “Xristos”(pronounced “Kris-toss”).┬áThe early church would use “X” as shorthand for “Christ”. Look at one of those Jesus fish sometime. Inside some of these fish are these Greek letters: IX[TH]YS.* These signs have been found at ancient Christian sites. Each of these Greek letters is the first letter in the words that say: “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour”. You see the “X” there is short for “Christ”.

In English, there is no natural correlation between “X” and “Christ”. It is such an unlikely connection, in fact, that I’m inclined to think that it’s origin in English is most likely Christian as well, from someone or a group familiar with Koine Greek. So there’s nothing for Christians fear there–the loss is not in the name but (potentially) in the way the occasion is celebrated.

What we call Christmas is ultimately irrelevant. It is now for most people a cultural, consumption-based holiday event, including for most Christians. Whether or not the the word “Christ” is in the name is not going to change that fact. The name “Easter” has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ or the Resurrection event, so far as I can tell (wheras “Paschal” does), and it takes nothing away from the religious end of that season for those who choose to focus on it that way.

So keep the ‘X’ in Christmas and keep the ‘Christ’, too, for that matter. Keep Christ in there not by means of spelling the word a certain way, but by entering into the season reflectively and with open hearts, preparing for his arrival, remembering his birth and anticipating his second advent. That’s a choice we all have to make, regardless of how we spell “Christmas”.

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*in Greek there is one letter that represents the English “th” sound.

3 thoughts on “Keeping the ‘X’ in ‘Christmas’.

  1. Toni

    That’s a good insight. X is often used as shorthand in other places too – Xter for transmitter and Rx for receiver for example, though not linked to chi I’m sure. Modern Greeks sometimes also translate X as having a ‘H’ sound in English, so the village of Xanioti is written Hanioti for the tourists.

    As for Oester, well, that’s another bucket of frogs entirely.

  2. Margreet

    Marc thank you for this wel written explanation of the X in christmas.
    Keep it up boy. You’re doing great.

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