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The ‘X' in ‘Xmas' has a story

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Posted at 9:18 AM, Dec 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-24 09:57:23-05

While some Christians believe the ‘X’ in ‘Xmas’ is offensive, it was never meant to be.

An advertisement for a business wishing a “Merry Xmas” doesn’t typically aim to remove the word “Christ” from “Christmas.” It simply follows a 500-year-old way of abbreviating America’s most popular winter holiday.

So what is the true meaning of Xmas?

It was first used as a replacement for Christmas in 1551, when printing long words came at a premium, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. The abbreviation comes from the Greek word “Chi,” which translates to “Christ” — “Chi” was written as a symbol that looked similar to the modern letter “X.”

“The usage is nearly as old as Christianity itself,” according to a post on Snopes.com, a website dedicated to debunking popular myths and rumors. “It’s a very old artifact of a very different language.”

For at least 37 years, Christians have cried foul over the use of the term ‘Xmas,’ mistakenly believing that it was a word created to make Christmas more secular.

Decades ago, New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson, Jr. issued an official press release asking citizens to stop using the abbreviation. Thomson warned that “‘Xmas’ is a pagan spelling of Christmas … X-ing out Christ,” according to a December 1977 issue of “The Montreal Gazette.”

Thomson’s faux pas stemmed from not knowing the Greek origin of the abbreviation — the original language in which the New Testament was written. Religious writers have expressed disappointment in such outbursts against the word Xmas.

“This misunderstanding and fear-mongering about the use of "Xmas" is not a new phenomenon,” wrote Dennis Bratcher in a 2011 article for the Christian Resource Institute. “It makes one think how uninformed or misinformed, and unnecessarily militant with that misinformation, so many Christians are concerning their own faith.”

Bratcher wrote that seeing the term Xmas should be used by Christians as a teaching moment about the symbolism and history of their faith.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.