My first memories of seeing Xmas used in place of Christmas are associated with sitting at the kitchen table, signing and addressing Christmas cards while Mom made date nut rolls and fudge. Our cards were chosen, not for the beautiful images or the poignant verses, but for the price. The least expensive cards usually came in an assortment with some religious ones and some secular ones. Some of the latter cards were completely generic, saying “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays,” but some used the short version–“Merry Xmas.” I slipped those cards to the bottom of the pile, hoping I’d run out of names before I had to use them. Like many Christians, I thought the makers of these cards were attempting to “X” Christ out of Christmas.
Many Christians today view the continued use of the shortened term as part of a cultural war on Christmas. They are doubly incensed by the increased use, especially on sites with character limitations, of the term Xians.
Since those days at the kitchen table, both my knowledge and understanding of the world have broadened a bit, and I realize that not everyone who uses X in place of Christ is a heathen. The origin of the practice has been explained to me over the years, but like a lot of material, it doesn’t stick with me until I’ve researched it for myself. Here’s what I found.
The Greek word for Christ is Χριστός. The first letter of the word is Chi or X, and the second letter is Rho or P. During the 16th century, European Christians began using X as a symbol of or abbreviation for Christ. Some sources cite references as far back as the 11th century where Christ was written as Xp or Xt. Some New Testament manuscripts use X or XC (first and last letters) as an abbreviation for Christ.
The Chi-Rho symbol of the P or Rho overlayed by the X or Chi was used by ancient Greek scribes to mark certain passages as noteworthy. It also appeared on some coins of Ptolemy III around 250-200 BC. The symbol was later adopted, perhaps by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, as a symbol of Christ.
Regardless of its origin, some will continue to use X as a symbol for Christ, others will use it as a way to save a few keystrokes, and still others will use it as a way to remove a name that offends them. Ultimately, each of us, like Peter, must decide who Christ is to us.
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15
Other names and characteristics of God that include X are:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. Philippians 2:9
O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! Psalms 8:1 (NKJV)
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21