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Why the X in 'XMas' is actually religious, not secular, shorthand

Christmas gift boxes with decorations
Christmas gift boxes with decorations
svetlana kolpakova, 70190715

In the last decade, the word “XMas” has often been a major source of contention among believers, some of whom discouraged others from using the term to keep the Christ in Christmas. Franklin Graham criticized it in 2005. Meanwhile, Christian media flagged it as “plain offensive” two years ago.

But, as Vox unearthed in 2014, the X in “XMas” represents Christ.

The word Christos, which is Christ in Greek, begins with the letter X, or chi, according to Vox.

In fact, the letter X became a shorthand for Christ in the early fourth century, Vox reported. Constantine the Great said he had a vision of an emblem that later became a military banner. The image included a chi (the letter X) and a rho (the letter P), which essentially looked like a P on top of an X.

Santa Claus holding Merry Christmas card with wishes
Santa Claus holding Merry Christmas card with wishes
Markus Mainka, DepositPhotos

The emblem represented Christ, Vox reported.

About 600 years later in 1021, scribes identified Christmas as “XPMas.” The magazine Punch later turned the word into a verb, Xmassing, to represent how people spent their days at the time, according to Vox.

Critics concerned about XMas may be justified though, according to First Things, even if the word technically represents Christ. The phrase "XMas" has developed a cultural meaning that doesn't promote religious belief.

“The hatred for Xmas, then, may stem in part from an innate suspicion of the attempt to render all things ancient and beautiful modern, cheap, and sleek,” First Things reported.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what people call the season. Whether it’s XMas or Christmas, the message remains the same, according to First Things.

“At one time Xmas may evoke the clang of Roman steel, at another the cash register’s ring,” according to First Things, “yet no process of secularization has succeeded in preventing it from pointing us to that first and final fact: the song of angel chorus, the lowing ox and braying ass, the naked babe’s cry as his mother swaddles he who would leave his burial clothes behind.”