The X-Mas Files
Some Christians dislike the term "X-mas" as an abbreviation for Christmas, but it's perfectly legit. Read on to learn more!
Back when I was in high school, I read a screed about how the term "X-mas" had cheapened Christmas, reducing the significance of what is, after all, the holiday representing the birthdate of the Messiah (even if it probably didn't really occur in December... but that's another rant).
I happened to agree at the time, but then I wondered where the term came from. Why "X"? How did that fit in? Then I realized: what's an X but a sideways, slanty crucifix? A little research (which the person ranting about X-mas didn't bother to do) and I understood the matter better.
The Real Deal
Like Halloween, the term "X-mas" actually originates with Christianity itself, dating from the bad old days of the Roman Empire when Christians were regularly and nastily persecuted.
Until the Empire officially embraced Christianity in the 4th Century A.D., you were quite likely to face the lions in the arena if you admitted to believing in Jesus Christ rather than the traditional Roman pantheon gods. So in order to keep their religion alive, most Christians worshipped secretly.
The Original Civil Disobedience
In a form of quiet rebellion, some Christians in ancient Rome marked public places with the Greek letter chi--an "X," in other words -- which represents Christ Himself. They did this to show their fellow Christians that they were not alone.
They also used similar symbols like the Chi-Rho or labarum (an X superimposed over a P) to represent Christ. This clandestine form of communication continued in the Empire until it was safe to publically admit one was Christian -- after centuries of civil disobedience.
So the "X" is for Christ; the "-mas" just comes from the old English Mass, a liturgy or feast. X-mas is Christ's Mass just as sincerely as Christmas is. And truly, the term has been in low-key use since at least 1485, especially when space was limited and abbreviations necessary.
It's nothing new, and never went away; it just became more obvious, and accidentally seemed connected to Christmas's increasing commercialization as the printed word took hold. You'll see it often if you study Victorian Christmas cards and advertisements.
Unfortunately, some influential evangelists who don't even know the history of their own faith have denounced "X-mas" and "Xmas" as ungodly attempts to take Christ out of Christmas. Sorry, it's just not so.
So if you're a Christian yourself, and the term "X-mas" irritates you no end, take a lesson from your own history before going off on someone about it. Though too many people use the term annoyingly, and as mere shorthand, it has a noble history. X-mas is something to be proud of -- not angry about.