Patrick Coffin asked:

"One of the things that has crept into correspondence at Christmas time, and you see this on packaging and so on, is reducing Christmas to Xmas in writing. What's the origin of that?"


Jimmy Akin replied:

"That goes actually back to the fifteen hundreds...basically it's an abbreviation...the X in that situation is based on the Greek letter chi which is the first...letter of the word Christos, or Christ, in Greek. And so since Christmas is Christ's Mass, that's where we get it from. It's the Mass celebrating his birth.

Christians who needed to abbreviate the word for reasons of space presumably, would use just the first letter in Greek which looks like an English X. That's what a chi looks like is an x, and so they would just abbreviate it that way... Christians have used abbreviations of sacred names...from the very beginning...one of the characteristics in fact of the very earliest Christian manuscripts, including the earliest New Testament manuscripts, is that they use a literary device called the nomina sacra, or the sacred names. And one of the ways we know they're so early is we look at them and we see they've got the nomina sacra in them and what those are is abbreviations of words in Greek like God and Lord and Jesus and Christ...What they would do is they would take the first and the last letter of the word and use that as the abbreviation. So Christos starts with a chi and ends with a sigma...so the abbreviation for Christ would be chi sigma...

They were doing this precisely to the sacred names, and so it seems somehow related to an expression of reverence of not writing out the name in full, and so actually Christians abbreviating sacred names goes all the way back to the beginning, and so there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it. But I understand why people might feel squeamish too."


Source material:

Jimmy Akin's blog: Christmas, Xmas, and Yuletide: 5 things to know and share.


Copyrights:

Catholic Answers, "Open Forum" (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2014)

Editor's note: This is an excerpt of the answer provided. For the complete response download the podcast.

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Show air date: December 18, 2014

Name of show: Open Forum

Guest comments by: Jimmy Akin

Question appeared in show: 28:03


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