Xmas or Christmas? One Preacher Sounds Off, and It’s Not What You Think

Seven years ago, when I became fast friends with Benjamin Corey — a preacher, theologian, and blogger — he was a Christian fundamentalist. And back then, he cringed when he saw the word “Christmas” rendered as “Xmas.”

He would fume (though mercifully not within my earshot),

How dare those godless atheists try to take the baby Jesus out of my manger, and block out the word Christ with a big, black, X?

Since then, Corey (many of his friends call him by his last name) has had a change of heart. A student of ancient Greek, he’s discovered that (drum roll…) there is no secular conspiracy to remove Christ from Christmas.

As shocking as this may be for some to realize, the Bible wasn’t written in English. The New Testament is written in Koine Greek, and the Greek word for Christ is… get ready…

Χριστος

See where I’m heading with this yet?

In Greek, the first letter for the name of Christ is X. Instead of always writing the full name Χριστος, we see in early Christian history a trend to abbreviate Χριστος as simply Χ. …

[W]riting Christmas as Xmas is hardly anything new or born out of a secular culture — this tradition dates back to the 12th Century.

I’ve avoided using “Xmas” for some years now, in part because it strikes me as an ever-so-slightly ugly and lazy rendering, but also because I know that “Xmas” rubs some of the people I love (such as my evangelical in-laws) the wrong way. It doesn’t matter that they’re misinformed on the topic — I simply see no upside to antagonizing anyone with a spelling that matters to them, and not at all to me. (To clarify: neither does the rendering “Xmas” annoy me.)

For his part, Corey, too, chooses conciliation and good will. He sees his brethren’s protests against the alternative spelling as needless salvos in the

… nonexistent war against Christmas [which] drive a wedge further between ourselves and the neighbors who Jesus has called us to radically love.

Why, Corey doesn’t even take offense anymore if someone wishes him “Happy holidays.”

Someone better notify Bill O’Reilly.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • LesterBallard

    Someone send send this to Fox News and Sarah Fucking Palin.

    • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor
      • Randay

        In Washington State, Fux News says that an 11 year old girl was told not to sell mistletoe. What does mistletoe have to do with Xmas?

  • Brian K

    I just refeuse to use “Xmas” because it too closely resembles twitter-speak.

  • revyloution

    Hope. Sometimes, I feel the crushing weight of the world and think that humanity might not survive to the next decade. Then I get hope, hope that we might overcome our greed, our tribalism, or fear. This article gave me a little of that hope back.

    I think Ill avoid news for the rest of the day and just bask in the glow.

  • Mick

    What sort of seminary did he attend? I thought that would have been something he would learn in the first semester. I’ve been an atheist all my life and I knew it.

    • Terry Firma

      He went to Gordon Conwell — shortly after we first met. No causal relationship that I’m aware of. ;-)

      • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

        And yes, it actually was the first semester :)

        • MD

          Hey! it’s December already, so, Merry Christmas. I have no problem saying it to those I know are Christian. Just like I wish my Jewish friends a Happy Chanukah.

    • Randay

      “try to take the baby Jesus out of my manger” I wouldn’t think of it. I would just leave him there to be eaten by the animals. He should also have learned that the manger is the animals’ smorgasbord.

  • Jen G.

    I used to be religious, and even went to seminary. Every note I took in seminary used X for Jesus.

  • Glasofruix

    Then it’s not “eXmas” but Hristmas :p

  • Hypnox

    “Xtians” isn’t a very popular locution either, at least among Xtians. Which is why I use it.

    • John

      Well, technically it should be “Xians,” maybe they’re offended by the misspelling ;)

  • atom the atheist

    Happy Pastaday!

    • Alierias

      Beer Volcanos!

  • Ateu, e dai?

    And the funny fact about Christmas (or Xmas, whatever), is that Christ probably wasn´t even born in december: http://christiananswers.net/christmas/mythsaboutchristmas.html

    So, when people say someone is trying to remove Christ from Christmas, I can´t refrain my inner laugh. The Church itself already managed to do that ages ago…

    • Little_Magpie

      My two favourite responses to the tired cliches that certain Christians like to spout about the December holidays.

      1) Keep Saturn in Saturnalia!

      2) Axial tilt is the reason for the season. (for all seasons, in fact!)

  • momtarkle

    X! Who knew?

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Merry Xmas Terry!

    • Terry Firma

      Happy holidays man!

    • Artor

      Ben, did you really not know the background of the Chi-Rho until you studied Greek? I’ve heard this story so often, I have to wonder if Terry is repeating the stereotype, although it seems Terry was unaware himself until recently.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I couldn’t care less either but it just seems to me that if you’re going to start writing in Koine Greek, maybe you should use the Koine Greek word for “Merry” as well. You never hear anyone saying “Merry Noel.”

    • Emily Fleming

      Maybe not where you live, but around here we speak good Franglais. Joyeux Christmas!

  • Rain

    Well, I’m glad that persecution is all cleared up now. I for one welcome our new brother Corey overlord.

  • Marcus Aurelius Girl

    When I was younger, my cousins and I would decorate Christmas present boxes that our toys from our grandparents and extended family would go in after we had opened the presents. One year, I wrote “Xmas” on my box because I had seen it in a show/book/something. My cousins freaked out over it and said it was a sin and that I was “x”ing the Christ out of Christmas. They scribbled it out and I never wrote it again. Then when I learned it was an abbreviation, I wished my 7 year old self had known that knowledge to stuff it down their throats.
    Glad to see a Christian who doesn’t believe in the War on Christmas :)

  • Mario Strada

    X is a cross. It makes perfect sense that it would stand as an abbreviation for someone that was (allegedly) crucified or for a religion that worshipped same. I never understood why Xtians get so offended about it. One thing you can almost always count on is that languages tend to abbreviate and drop letters as opposed to the other way (with some exceptions).

  • Kingasaurus

    “It doesn’t matter that they’re misinformed on the topic — I simply see
    no upside to antagonizing anyone with a spelling that matters to them, and not at all to me.”

    Terry-

    Have you tried educating them on the issue? Or won’t they listen to the evil atheist when it comes to Christian history and customs? It’s a pretty easy thing to find out about, and once you know the truth about it, no reason to take offense.

    • Terry Firma

      Reasonable question, but I think I’ll pass. It seems petty and triumphalist to bring it up now. “Remember ten years ago when you mentioned that you don’t like the spelling Xmas? Well, funny story.” Nah. I’d rather wait for bigger fish to fry.

      If they bring it up again for whatever reason, I promise to enlighten them, though!

  • moose

    I was raised Catholic (parochial elementary school, CCD, mass every Sunday) and I knew this from a very early age. In fact, I specifically recall being told by priests that the X was traditionally used as a shorthand for Christ and Xmas was therefore not offensive in the least. Is it an evangelical thing to get upset about it?

    • Kingasaurus

      Has to be. I was raised raised Catholic and always knew the history of it. Protestants in my extended family don’t like “Xmas” and have clearly shown in conversation with me that they are ignorant of its origin.

      Not sure why this persists.

    • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

      Must be Evangelical, or at least American. 15 years among Catholics in Ireland and never even knew this was a controversy.

      • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

        You’re right on both counts– it’s an American Evangelical thing.

    • Mick

      People make stuff up as they go along and having made it up they assume that is true (because they’re not stupid are they?)

      Someone sees the “X” in Xmas; decides it’s a bit rude, and from then on (as far as they are concerned) it IS rude. They’re Christians; how could they be wrong!

      A similar thing happens when you mention that the flag can be flown upside down. Someone is sure to say it could never happen and it is the greatest insult ever — but it can happen and it isn’t an insult. People make up stuff as they go along.

      • Alierias

        Flying a flag upside down is a conventional signal of distress — the idea that it’s an insult came when it became popular to do this at anti-war protests.

  • Spooky Tran

    Loved this article. I first learned about this a few Xmases ago, when my cousin and I were arguing about it. He insisted, like Corey used to, that it was exing out Christ. I insisted that the X was symbolic of a cross. Finally we consulted Wikipedia to find the truth, but before that, we had this exchange:

    Him: “An X looks nothing like a cross!”

    Me: “Sure it does, it’s two crossed bars.”

    Him: “Well if it’s supposed to be a cross, then why isn’t it “tmas?”

    • ScottG

      A quick poke around quite a few sites also shows that there’s no record of the shape of the cross – or even if it clearly WAS a cross – in readings of the Koine Greek. The wiki article on Roman Crosses is good, as is this one: http://godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/RomanCrosses.htm

  • DemothenesOfAthens

    Good grief. Haven’t they ever noticed the “X” in the Chi Rho symbol

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chi_Rho

  • Gerry Mooney

    At this time of year I do like to remind everyone that “Xmas” is indeed of christian origin. I know, I was surprised too!

  • Artor

    I always get a kick when some righteous Xian calls me out for using the X shorthand. They invariably accuse me of being childishly disrespectful by refusing to type out the whole name every time, and often hold onto that attitude, even after I provide them with links explaining the history and use of the Chi-Rho in Xian trappings & liturgy. It’s true that I hold little to no respect for Xian traditions, but that’s for entirely well-considered reasons, not childish ones. Constantly being reminded of the abject ignorance of most of it’s followers is one of them.

  • guest

    Well darn, now I need to find another way to annoy Christians. What about ‘Crimbo’? Yule? Winterval?

  • raerants

    Gary Chrimble, Barry Mimble, and a Gear New Year!

  • SJH

    I love using “Xmas” because of its history. It a symbol of Xian longevity and its inclusiveness across cultures.


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