By Jeff Westover
In recent years many retailers have come under fire for using the word “holiday” in substitution for the word “Christmas” in their advertising. But some have problems with the term “Xmas” as well. Just ask gift shop owner Trent Wilson. He meant no harm when he used the term “Xmas” in a 2007 ad he placed in a local newspaper. But one simple letter to the editor unleashed a torrent of bad publicity that nearly wiped out his business.
“We simply ran out of room in the ad,” Trent explains. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone. The ad was supposed to announce the arrival of LED lights that were in short supply and high demand. Instead it kept people from coming into the shop altogether during a critical time of the year because the word spread about how we were politically incorrect. Once the letter hit the paper it was all I heard about for days.”
It is a common misunderstanding. People see the word “Xmas” and they automatically think that Christ has been taken out of “Christmas”.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
Origins of the word “Christmas” date back centuries, when Latin was the official language of the Roman Church. Christmas was called “Dies Natalis Domini”, meaning “Birthday of the Lord”. More formally, Christmas was known as “Festum Natavitatis Domini Jesu Christi” or “Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. In the 11th and 12th centuries more official church ceremonies were introduced as part of the holiday celebrations and they were called, among other things, “Christ’s Mass”. Over time, the natural contraction of that term brought us the word we know today as “Christmas”.
The letter “X” is better thought of as a symbol when considering its use in conjunction with Christmas. “X” has been used in Greek to represent Christ dating back more than 1000 years. While some incorrectly assume that the letter “X” is symbolic of the cross where Jesus was crucified it indeed was commonly used in antiquity to denote Christ in words like “Christian” (Xtian). There are literally hundreds of examples of the term used in official and personal correspondence, reference material and even ancient written copies of the Bible, all using “X” as a symbol for Christ.
It is important to note that even if “X” is used to represent Christmas it is not pronounced “ecks-mas”. The term “Xmas” is still pronounced as “Christmas”. And when using “X” in the word Christmas it is always capitalized.
Though an ancient term, “Xmas” still creates modern controversy. Some believe that atheist advocacy groups now adopt the term “Xmas” because it removes “Christ” from their secular celebrations of the season. Like those who choose to be offended by the term “Xmas” it instead showcases their ignorance of the symbol and where it comes from.