In Defense of “Xmas”

Last Friday night I went to a sizeable seeker-sensitive church which was hosting an elaborate “Journey to Bethlehem.” It wasxmas-1 a really impressive set up. Groups of a couple dozen each would be lead on a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by a fictitious Jewish man and his wife and daughter. Along the way were intimidating Roman soldiers (some on horseback), lots of sheep, goats, ponies and even camels on hand. We were even held up by bandits on the road before we reached our destination: the stable offered by the keeper of the already booked “Bethlehem Inn.”

So many people turned out this year to go on the journey, that before we began, we spent a good 30-45 minutes being entertained in the sanctuary of the church–which I suppose they prefer to call the worship center. We enjoyed a Christmas version of “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” a couple of puppet shows, and a few videos. One of the videos was a kind of spoof of a football player who wanted to make sure everyone around him kept Christ in Christmas–if they didn’t, he’d tackle them! It was a funny video. However, as usual, one of the football players’ poor victims was sporting the widely misunderstood holiday abbreviation, “Xmas.” She got tackled.  How many times per Christmas season do you hear Christians around you complain whenever they see or hear someone use the word “Xmas”? I’ve personally lost count.

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language has this short and helpful explanation. Among other uses of the the letter x, it reads, “As an abbreviation, X. stands for Christ, as in Xn. Christian; Xm. Christmas.” Why, you ask, does x stand for Christ? The letter x is not only the third from the last letter of the English alphabet, it is also the Greek letter, chi (pronounced “key”), which corresponds to the English “ch.” Chi is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Yes, Virginia, it is that simple. Here’s a simple Greek alphabet for your orientation.

If you’ve ever gotten nervous or felt someone was demeaning Christ by using the abbreviation “Xmas,” may I be the first to reassure you that such is not the case. Wikipedia has a very informative entry about the history of the use of Xmas, as well as the How Stuff Works website. Learn it, love it, live it.

Merry Xmas!!!



13 responses

  1. wow John

    You learn something every day. I didn’t know that. I thought xmas was an acronym for x marks a spot! 🙂 xmas!

    Sorry, what did you say?

  2. I’m from Geneva, and I’m here to help!

  3. Knew you were into the seeker stuff…

  4. Gage,

    For entertainment purposes only! At least I don’t pal around with Ed Young 😉

  5. I remember my revelation I had on this in first year Greek class. It’s really hard to convince people that it’s really okay to have that X, though….

  6. That’s okay, repetition is a good teacher. Maybe I’ll post on this again next year. Yeah, that should help!

  7. John,
    Late to the argument, but I disagree. People around us don’t use Greek. They don’t know the etymology of words and they don’t look for the reason why X might mean anything other than that it sames time, space, effort, and ink. It cost less to by llights that spell out xmas rather than Christmas. You may be as wise as you wish (and you are wise. . .and smart) but most people see “Xmas” just as I do. The last things we need during this special holiday season of winter festivities is CHRIST. Just give me lot of ‘mas without all the other “holy” stuff.


  8. Yeah, and no one will know if no one ever explains it to the masses of people who don’t know otherwise. And it’s not about me being smart; it’s about people learning the truth. Why allow people to ignorantly run around condemning something that doesn’t deserve being condemned, just because “people around us don’t use Greek?” It insults their intelligence. They’ll sit and watch tv programs that explain all kinds of elaborate things, but when it comes to religious stuff, the more simplistic the better, that is, holier–we wouldn’t want to make ’em think and learn. Just let them rail about things they don’t understand.

  9. I stand corrected. And, I’ll I’ll stop “railing” on about things I don’t understand.


  10. Your last response to Christian West was so correct in many ways. I myself have used the same argument in my discussions with the unenlightened. There may be hope for you yet.
    The Watcher

  11. Watcher,

    Unenlightened in some minor, temporal ways, perhaps (as are we all), but I am thankful “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, [has given him] a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of [his] heart enlightened, that [he] may know what is the hope to which he has called [him], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward [him] who believe[-s], according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:17-21). My prayer is that this enlightenment will be graciously endowed even to the “watching” world, my watching friend.

  12. Capt.,
    I just need to say that “unenlightened” and “unredeemed” are not the same word. I am not quite as unenlilghtened as Watcher and others might assume. I have known for a number of years (I’m old, don’t forget) that X means a lot of things. But to most unbelievers it is nothinig more than leaving “Christ” out of Christmas. And as for believers, I would never want us to enforce that image by simply saying (or teaching, if you like) that “we” know what it means and “they” should not be so unenlightened.


  13. You are right that “unenlightened” and “unredeemed” are not the same word. In the contemporary secular sense, enlightenment refers to simple knowledge of earthly things like how people have reverently abbreviated the holy name of Christ. But in the biblical sense, enlightenment is a reference to part of the work of the Holy Spirit in taking the things of God (which are spiritually discerned) and making them clear to the mind of man. Such enlightenment you and I share. Join me in praying that such enlightenment by the Spirit from the Word of God will come to my friend, the Watcher.

    But what good can it do to allow people to rail about something they don’t understand, when it only betrays their ignorance to those who do understand that Xmas isn’t irreverent, especially to those who understand its intended reverence who happen to remain unbelievers? Does this not give them another excuse to reject Christ, when ignorant railing about Xmas only serves to confirm the rumor that one must “check his brains at the church house door?”

    To explain such things to those who misunderstand it need not come from some elitist “more-knowledgeable-than-thou” attitude. Just because knowledge has the potential to “puff up” (1 Cor. 13), doesn’t mean one should avoid, or reject, the acquisition thereof. I know that you and your pastor agree with this whole-heartedly. But sometimes the cultural anti-intellectualism of the times gives us such an attitude when we don’t intend to exhibit it.

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