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Saturday, November 21, 2015

5 Fast Facts About the Term “Xmas” and Its Historic Christian Origins

For most of my life I, along with many others, was offended by the term “Xmas”. It seemed obvious that people were scratching out the name of Christ and that notion bothered me. It was just a few years ago when a fellow Christian told me about the historic Christian origins of this term. I had to say I was kind of blown away and also a little embarrassed that I was completely ignorant of this before. So here are 5 fast facts about the term “Xmas”…

Christian Origins

Far from being a secular attempt to get rid of the name of Christ, Xmas started out within the church as an abbreviation for Christmas. Some say the use of the X for Christ dates back to the earliest days of Christianity but what we know for sure is that it was used as early as 1021 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Whatever you may think about abbreviations, it soon became a well-known Christian symbol. As theologian R.C. Sproul says "There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect."


These two Greek letters are the first two letters of the Greek name of Christ “ Χριστός “ . This word is transliterated as Christos (pronounced “khrē-sto's”). In Greek it means “anointed” and refers to the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.  

As one can see by looking at these first two letters they look like an English X and P and so X or sometimes XP became a well-known Christian symbol. This symbol is called the labarum or Chi-Rho. The Chi-Rho symbol seems to be similar in its usage to the well-known “Christian Fish”. The fish symbol has been used since the early times of the church because the Greek acronym “Icthus” (Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour) happens to spell “fish”. 

Its Not Pronounced “Ex-mas”

Although the term Xmas appears to be pronounced “Ex-mas”, it should not be. In the early usages of the X symbol it was always understood that to say it aloud meant to say “Christ” - for X was not just a symbol for Christ but meant Christ itself just as “Mr.” means “Mister”.  The Oxford English Dictionary sites this type of usage as early as 1485. In fact, other terms have been used the same way including Xian and Xianity (Christian and Christianity). 

Today’s Use Of the Term

So now we know of the historical and symbolic significance of the term “Xmas” but does that mean that all people and businesses who use the term today are using it with this rich heritage in mind? Of course not. For the most part today people use this term for brevity, out of laziness or even as a direct way of “crossing out” the name of Christ. I still find that bothersome and in the last case offensive (Not that I’m into the “War on Christmas” ideology – Red Starbuck cups don’t bother me). 

So What Do We Do Now? 

Personally I still like to write out “Christmas” in full as not many people know of this history. However, knowing now both the Christian history of the term Xmas and its modern day careless usage  I would suggest that we, as Christians, do not berate someone for using Xmas in a non-Christian way but rather use it as an opportunity to tell them about its true origins and, in doing so, share the Gospel as well. Because the Gospel is what Christmas is all about! 

“…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:21


R.C. Sproul

Dennis Bratcher



1 comment:

  1. Thank you for an enlightening post with a lot of good information.