What does Christmas mean to you? If you are a christian, you most likely know that Christmas is a compound word that is formed using “Christ” and “Mass.” Putting the two words together, it literally means the mass or celebration of Christ.
Jesus Christ is known as the founder or central figure of Christianity. Christmas was, and still is a Christian holiday. It is the calendar date of December 25 and commemorates the birth of Jesus. Ancient Romans also (indirectly) commemorated Jesus’ birth by marking a division of the calendar still in use today. The years before Jesus’ birth are marked as B.C. (Before Christ), and the years after Jesus’ birth are marked A.D. (Anno Domini, which means, in the year of our Lord).
Christmas is a national or public holiday for many people throughout the world. America, along with more than forty other countries, considers Christmas to be a public holiday. As a public holiday, many countries treat it as a day free of work. In the United States, where there is “separation of church and state,” federal workers are the only ones, by law, that do not have to work on Christmas.
So, what is the meaning of Christmas? I think, in America, the meaning of Christmas depends upon who is asked. It is a holiday with different meanings for different people. If a person is not christian, then Christmas is, most likely, not a religious holiday for her/him. And, if a Christian is an American, who isn’t a federal worker, then Christmas may be a religious holiday but not a public holiday where s/he does not have to work. The point is, that Christmas has become more than a religious holiday and has many different meanings.
Perhaps, since Christmas is more than just a religious holiday, it’s easy to see how some say that Christ has been taken out of Christmas. Some say that using Xmas instead of Christmas demonstrates the point that Christ has been removed from Christmas. When I was teaching mathematics, my students would sometimes point out to me that using Xmas instead of Christmas is similar to replacing a known quantity with a variable in an algebraic expression. These students would then try to use this thinking as a “proof” that Christ has been taken out of Christmas.
Does replacing “Christ” with an “X” in Christmas mean that Christ has been taken out of Christmas. NO! You see, Christmas originated as a compound word from the two words, Christ’s and Mass. As an English word, it is derived from the Middle English word, Christemasse and the Old English word, Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038 AD. “Cristes” is from the Greek, Christos and “mæsse” is from the latin word, missa (holy mass).
Ok, but where does the “X” come from? Using the Greek language, Christ is Χριστός. As you can see, the first letter of Christ, in Greek, is the letter “Χ” (chi). “X” has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. In the 16th century, there were many people, often illiterate, who found the “X” much easier to write and use than the name, “Christ.” And, of course, Xmas was, and still is often used as an abbreviation for Christmas.
So, does Christmas equal Xmas? Yes, and it has for over 400 years.
Are we taking Christ out of Christmas when we use Xmas. No, we’re just abbreviating Christmas.
Merry Christmas and/or Merry Xmas! :-)