By John David O. Moncada
Preparing my Php150 on my way to the cashier to pay for a Christmas card which I felt was perfect to match the gift I prepared, made me remember a comment at church to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” That is, not to replace the word “Christ” with “X.” It is snuffing out Jesus, they say.
To whoever believes that, Governor Meldrim Thomson Jr. couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, in 1977, Governor Thomson Jr of New Hampshire, New England, asked journalists through an official press release to stop using the abbreviation “XMAS.” He found it pagan.
Perhaps we can understand his sentiments. The governor’s beliefs were rooted in the 17th century, a century characterized by conservative religiosity. He was proud of it. Furthermore, he ordered the title “Ms.” not to be used in women’s names for official forms of communication. He was also known to be so passionate about New Hampshire’s motto expressed in the phrase, “Live Free or Die,” that when a resident covered these words on his license plate, he fought the resident all the way to the Supreme Court.
Acknowledging that words are powerful, which actually goes without saying, is probably where Gov. Thomson was coming from— that words can actually create an experience; that they can label an experience. Hence, when we replace the word “Christ” with an X, which is often the mark we use when we want to delete or omit something, then we are supposedly deleting the experience of Christ this Christmas season and replacing it with something else— like materialism, for instance.
But let’s go further down in history, shall we? It is not actually the letter X of the English alphabet that is used to replace the word “Christ.” X is a Greek letter called “chi” and it looks similar to the X of the English alphabet. The word Christos (Christ) starts with chi or “X.” It was in 1500 AD when it was first used. This device known as the Christogram was considered an acceptable representation for the word “Christ” for hundreds of years.
Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor from 306 to 307 AD, popularized this shorthand usage for “Christ.” According to legend, Constantine had a vision on the eve of the great battle against Maxentius where he designed a military banner with the first two letters of Christ on it: chi and rho (XP). So chi or “x” in “Xmas” literally means “Christmas.”
The first use of “chi” or “x” to replace Christ in the word “Christmas,” however, dates back to 1021 AD for the purpose of economizing space. Parchment papers were used at that time, but it was quite expensive. Abbreviating words such as “XPmas” (known as the Christogram) for “Christmas” was just being wise and economical. “XPmas” eventually evolved into a more shortened version: “Xmas.”
Another example of the Christogram is the popular ΙΧΘΥΣ which is pronounced as Ich-thus. It is the Greek word for fish. (It is the “Jesus-fish” sticker some people put on cars.) The early Christians used it as an abbreviation in a line from the Apostles’ Creed: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
Therefore, etymologically, the abbreviation “Xmas” is innocent of the charge of omitting “Christ” from “Christmas.”
But still, even if the use of “Xmas” has religious origins, others find it offensive. Its use “is a war against the name of Jesus Christ,” said Franklin Graham, son of the American evangelist Billy Graham, as quoted in an article. Graham and those who share his sentiments say that the abbreviation represents a bigger issue on the pervasiveness of the secular culture in this modern era.
Your personal assessment of your intimacy with Jesus Christ will help decide whether the point of the critics in the use of “Xmas” is valid or not. Abbreviating Christmas into “Xmas” may not help in sensitizing people to the real meaning of Christmas. It may be a subtle way to forget about Christ in the guise of economizing. I believe that we have to highlight Christ more, who, as we say, is the reason for this season. We can capitalize Christ’s name. Make it bold, even. No matter what cost it might entail.