Do they know Xmas isn’t wrong?

Christogram (chi rho) on a mid-4th-century Roman coin. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Some people get awfully sniffy about Xmas as shorthand for Christmas. Wretched modern world, proto-textspeak, irreligious, ahistorical, next they’ll be calling it Pepsi-day.

As it happens, Xmas has been in use in English for centuries, and is recorded in a letter by the poet and polymath Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The ‘X’ stands for the Greek letter chi; in (ancient) Greek Christ is ‘Χριστός’. This abbreviation for Christ (often using the first two letters, chi and rho, Xρ) was common in ancient Christian artwork; it has an exceptionally long pedigree.

It may not be recommended for use in formal writing, and most publishers’ style guides are agin it, but it isn’t illiterate or crudely secular, a symptom of the commercialisation of Christmas.

Merry Χριστόςmas, everyone.

Paul Fishman (Bristol, December 2014)

(For more on the coin and Christogram see here.)

3 thoughts on “Do they know Xmas isn’t wrong?

  1. Paul,

    I am as guilty as anyone in my distaste for the abbreviation. I cannot even bring myself to type it. A few friends know to use it to wind me up too!

    Not anymore. I consider myself educ8ed 🙂

    “Froehliche Weihnachten und ein glueckliches Neues Jahr!”


    1. Michael,

      I think it’s a wee bit ugly, but there you go. Next time you see it, just nod knowingly and murmur ‘Ah, chi … rho’.

      Enjoy the holidays, may your plate and glass never be empty.


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