Here’s a holiday surprise that only the dictionary can provide. Do you find the word Xmas, as an abbreviation for Christmas, offensive? Many people do, but the origin of this controversial term might change your mind!
You won’t find Xmas in church songbooks or even on many greeting cards. Xmas is popularly associated with a trend toward materialism and is, sometimes, the target of people who decry the emergence of general “holiday” observance, instead of particular cultural and religious ritual.
Where did Xmas come from?
But, the history of the word Xmas is actually more respectable—and fascinating—than you might suspect. First of all, the abbreviation predates (by centuries) its use in gaudy advertisements. It was first used in the mid-1500s.
X is the Greek letter “chi,” the initial letter in the word Χριστός. And, here’s the kicker: Χριστός means “Christ.” X has been an acceptable representation of the word Christ for hundreds of years. This device is known as a Christogram.
In the same vein, the dignified terms Xpian and Xtian have been used in place of the word Christian.
Where does the mas in Christmas come from?
The mas in Xmas comes from the Old English word for “mass.” That word, mæsse, is believed to have been derived from Church Latin missa, ultimately from Latin mittere which means “to send away.” It was perhaps derived from the concluding dismissal in the Roman Mass, “Ite, missa est,” meaning “Go, it is the dismissal!
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As lovers of the alphabet, we are transfixed by the flexibility of X. The same letter can represent the sacred, the profane (“rated X”), and the unknown (“X-ray“). Find out more about the 24th letter of the alphabet.