Does anyone know when X-Mas started? According to Webster’s dictionary, the X comes from the Greek for Christ (X=Chi). I still want to know when people decided it was an appropriate shortening of Christmas. If Webster’s is right, it seems less disrespectful than my mother seems to think it is.


First you have to provide evidence that it’s an inappropriate shortening. Not all people are Christians.

Apparently it is quite old. This is from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1551, abbreviation for the Christ in Christmas, from first letter of Gk. Christos “Christ.”

Christ and Christmas

The Oxford English Dictionary also confirms daffyduck’s cite for 1551.

In any case, scribes had been using “X” (i.e., the Greek letter “chi”) as a shorthand for “Christ” for many centuries before that–during the Middle Ages, of course, you had to write everything out by hand, and scribes used whatever abbreviations they could use for frequently-repeated words. So I suspect that “Xmas” may actually be much older than 1551.

And it was never considered a disrespectful abbreviation. The only times I’ve heard people say “Xmas” was disrespectful was when they misinterpreted the “X” as a Latin “X” and failed to realize that it was actually a Greek letter. Of course, the fact that many people nowadays pronounce it like “ex-mas” tends to reinforce such a misinterpretation.

Munch, the people who misinterpret the “X” as a Latin X (see my above post) will sometimes say that the “X” is being used to obliterate Christ’s name from “Christmas.” To them, it seems inappropriate or even anti-Christian.

But as I’ve discussed, they’re wrong. “Xmas” as an abbreviation was devised by Christians, and simply as a convenient shorthand. I don’t think anyone, Christian or otherwise, truly regards it as a secular alternative to “Christmas”–I think the generic “Holidays” has become the standard, non-overtly religious and non-denominational term (and it shouldn’t be considered inappropriate or anti-Christian, either).

Thanks everyone. Once again, you guys have helped more than I expected.
I’ve never found it inappropriate - and being agnostic, I never really cared. However, in my opinion, it’s easier to say Christmas so I never understood the shortening. For writing, it makes sense.
Anyway, I’ll pass this info on to my mom.

It’s terribly sad to see a Christian pastor accept historically incorrect neo-pagan claims as accurate and then go off on a rant about it. Just as bad as all those ignorant Christian pastors who go off on a rant about the ‘X’ in Xmas being a ‘crossing out’ of Christ.

Agreed that saying ‘exmas’ is not a time saver when compared to saying ‘Christmas.’ But, before the printing press and, now, word processing. Abbreviations in writing were very, very common. It is the ones who don’t know what the abbreviation means who say it out loud as ‘exmas’ rather than ‘Christmas.’

You may be more familiar with the chi-rho which looks like a Latin capital ‘P’ with an X through the tail. (Sometimes it’s a single diagonal or horizontal through the tail to make the X). This is the combination of the first two letters of “Christ” (in Greek) which forms, loosely, the ‘KR’ sound in English. I use the chi-rho constantly in handwriting. Pretend for a moment that ‘XR’ is the chi-rho, then my abbreviations are:

XRs - Christmas
XRn - Christian
XRl - Christological
XRt - Christ
jXR - Jesus Christ

If one makes the rho by starting low and going up to make the loop and then crosses the tail, then the chi-rho is as easy to write as a ‘t.’

Mrs. B.,

Won’t you and your W[sup]m[/sup] join us for afternoon Xmas tea?

P, -m

What is this “Christmas” you speak of? Is it some kind of archaic pronunciation, like “ask” for “ax”?

A few years ago, Pittsburgh used the phrase “Sparkle Season” to describe the November/December holiday season. I do not think anyone had anything nice to say about the whole situation.


There’s also a Staff Report on this topic.