From time to time, PocketBible users will complain about our use of XMAS in a promotional priority code in one of our marketing emails — hence this article.
Christians and Christian values are under attack in America today. It’s nothing like what’s happening elsewhere in the world, of course, but given that this country was founded on biblical principles by people who held Christian beliefs, it is especially troubling to see those principles and beliefs under direct attack.
Because of the constant bullying we all face from people who claim to be “open minded” and “tolerant of differences”, we are sometimes quick to see offense where none really exists. The concern that some Christians have over the use of the abbreviation Xmas for Christmas is one such situation.
The X in Xmas is actually the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word Χριστος (christos), from which we get “Christ”. Its counterpart “X” has been used as an abbreviation for Christ for as many as 1000 years — maybe more. The abbreviations X, Xt, and Xr can be found in Early Modern English texts written by Christians from the 1700’s. In no case was it used to “remove Christ” from the text, but rather as a simple shorthand. It may also have been a recognition of the sacred nature of the name — in the same way that speaking the name of God was prohibited among the Jews, resulting in the unpronounceable 4-letter name (יהוה) that we sometimes see as YHWH in English. The substitution of chi for “Christ” was never meant as an insult but was used by Christians as a way of writing Jesus’ name.
Christianity is full of symbols. The cross in its various forms (the simple ✞ and many variations, including ⳩ and ⳨) is one. The dove that we use in our PocketBible icon is another. Then there’s the “fish” symbol. None of these are intended to denigrate the name of Jesus nor are they some kind of blasphemy. Instead, they are just easily recognized shorthand for the concepts they represent.
To the Christian, the X or chi in Xmas honors Jesus, while at the same time connecting us across time to our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ. It is the “secret handshake” that communicates deep spiritual truths that are evident to the believer but hidden from the world. So well hidden, in fact, that some well-meaning believers actually resist its use, arguing that it removes “Christ” from “Christmas”. But they are ignorant of the long history of Christian symbolism. “Xmas” is a Christian term, invented by Christians, with a long history of use in Christian literature, based on the ancient practice of abbreviating the title “Christ” with the Greek letter chi. It is not the invention of modern political progressives to remove Jesus from the name of the holiday that celebrates his birth.
Ironically, when a modern-day enemy of Christianity tries to remove Christ from Christmas by replacing it with an X, they are actually acknowledging him. 🙂
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the animosity that exists in our society between Christians and non-Christians. But the use of Xmas as shorthand for Christmas is not one of them.
Years ago, in seminary I used X for Christ and got pushback, which I see is still out there. So, I added t to my shorthand and Christ became Xt. I still use it for personal notes and only occasionally need to explain the Chi and the Greek.