Originally posted on December 18, 2009
A lot of people talk about "X-Mas" removing Christ from "Christmas." I cannot prove what I'm about to say, but I think that is wrong.
Let me introduce my readers who don't know to a practice of the early Christians called nomina sacra
. Basically, they used special abbreviations for sacred persons. Generally, these were two or three letters of the name written with a line drawn over them. This practice is found in all manuscript copies of the Greek New Testament.
The manuscripts were originally written in all uppercase, no accents, and no spaces. Incidentally, this makes my task easier, since I won't have to use a Greek font :p. The word in Greek for Christ is XPICTOC (the sigma was often written like our "C"). It was abbreviated as XP with a line over it. Eventually the XP was combined into a single letter. This image
contains this particular ligature (second from the bottom).
What I think happened is that printers early on couldn't print this symbol and didn't know to put separate the "X" and "P". So, they just went for "X" for the abbreviation.
I don't know this is the case, but it makes more sense and is quite convenient. It certainly makes more sense than to assume retailers decided to eliminate "Christ" en masse
years ago. Thus the abbreviation "X-Mas" is most likely a Christian abbreviation. As I said, I can't prove it, but it makes sense to me and certainly seems to explain what we see.Is this explanation for X-mas one that you know or agree with? Do you think it is being used this way today, or has it drifted away from its Christian heritage?