Merry Xmas or Merry Christmas?
Is it correct to write Xmas and where does this abbreviation come from?
The first time I saw the word Christmas written as “Xmas” I just thought it was the result of people being too lazy to write the full word. A symptom of spending a lot of time on internet forums, similar to lol- laught out loud, brb- be right back or tnx- thanks.
I even remember seeing some years ago, the pop singer Christina Aguilera sign her name as Xtina. Given that I was seeing this spelling for the first time, I interpreted it as just another way to appeal to the younger generation and keep up with trends.
As it turns out, I was wrong to think “Xmas” was anything new, as this abbreviation of the word Christmas exists since the Middle Ages but Christina was also wrong to call herself Xtina (and pronounce her name in the same manner) as, regardless of how we write it, “Xmas” should still be read and pronounced “Christmas” and not “Eksmas”.
In reality, Xmas is a common abbreviation found precisely in religious texts since hundreds of years ago. The ending is obviously the same and is a simple one to explain. “Mas” comes from “Mass” and thus, the whole word just means Christ’s Mass. What about the “X”? This was used because the Greek letter Chi, the first one in the word Χριστός meaning Christos, or “Christ” in English is actually written as an “X” in Greek. For many hundreds of years religious scholars would simply write an “X” to refer to Jesus and this wasn’t even a singular case. Even the word God was simply written as θ (theta), the first letter of the Greek word θεός –Theos. These abbreviations were used all the time and, in fact, they became so common that soon they started to be used in non-religious writing as well. Apparently it was already habitual in the 17th century for somebody named Christian to write “Xian” or “Xtian” instead of the customary way.
So if it’s nothing but an old fashioned way of spelling, why then, would a pop star use it in the 21st century?
Firstly, we can safely assume that the majority of people, like I did in the beginning, think Xmas is just some word invented by Millennials. Something that is in between a proper use of the full word: “Christmas”, and giving up on letters all together and referring to the holiday by simply using an emoji. But many others have gone much further in criticizing this particular use. In recent years, Christians erroneously interpreted “Xmas” to be an attempt to take “Christ” out of “Christmas”, and, therefore, to strip the holiday of its religious significance. They went as far as saying that this was a blasphemous act and “a war against the name of Jesus Christ”.
Conspiracy theorists thought it was an attempt to make Christmas even more commercial. Many times “X” stands for anonymity, for something that we don’t know and have yet to discover, it is the unknown variable in mathematics. That made them think Xmas was a gesture that says the holiday is not about Christ and not about anybody else in particular so, regardless of anyone’s religion they could still use Xmas as an excuse for consumerism.
At this point, the answer to the previous question is pretty evident. Given that this type of spelling is nowadays regarded as not only highly informal but has these negative connotations for so many, Christina Aguilera’s choice is not surprising. Xtina actually represents the perfect way to spell your name if you want to seem original and cool, let alone stir a little bit of controversy. If only she had known that the origins of this spelling are particularly linked to religion, tradition and convention she might have given it a second thought.
Regardless of your religious views we’re here to tell you that you can now safely write “Merry Xmas” on your Christmas cards and if anybody objects you can explain to them why their criticism is unfounded. However, you should also bear in mind that although many journalist or writers habitually used this spelling in the past, nowadays most dictionaries or manuals of style advice against writing Xmas in any type of formal writing.
And if you want to sign your cards putting an XO before writing your name then also be aware that this abbreviation, meaning “hugs and kisses”, has another interesting history behind it and surprisingly, it is actually linked to Xmas. Can you guess how? If not, you can read about it here.