Skip to main content

Christmas and Xmas


I noticed an online acquaintance the other day becoming extremely agitated that someone had referred to Christmas using the colloquialism Xmas. She felt that this was insulting, and offensive in the extreme. What she didn't realize was that Xmas as a shortened form for Christmas has a venerable (and solidly Christian) history.

The word Christmas is a compound of Christ + mass; we see it first in Old English in the form Cristes mæsse in 1038, according to the OED. The Old English form eventually evolved to the Middle English Christemasse. The word Christ is derived from the Greek word Christos, meaning “anointed,” a literal translation of the Hebrew cognate of messiah. Mass, as in the Christian ritual, derives from  Middle English masse, from Old English mæsse, from Vulgar Latin *messa, from Late Latinmissa, from Latin, feminine past participle of mittere, to send away, dismiss.]


The X of Xmas is a shorthand way to refer to the name of Christ. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the Greek letter Chi, written as X (the ancestor of the English letter X) is the first letter of Christ's name. X has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since at least the early 1500s. Earlier, and closely related abbreviations include Xp and Xr, from the Chi, the Rho and the Iota (our letter I/i), the Greek letters that spell the Chr, the first three letters of Christ. 

In medieval manuscripts the Chi Rho page is typically a very highly ornamental page in from the beginning of the book of Matthew. The name is because the text is about the birth of Christ  from the verse from Matthew 1:18 that in English in the 1611 version begins “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” The Latin text, the one used most often in medieval manuscripts, begins “XPI autem generatio . . .” The most famous page in the Book of Kells is the Chi Rho page

An entry in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle c. 1100 uses the shorthand of Xres masesse for Christmas; an abbreviation like Xmas is not so heretical, after all, and in truth, is quite traditional. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Red Letter Day

"It's a great piece of luck, ma'am," said Mrs Belfield, "that you should happen to come here, of a holiday! If my son had not been at home, I should have been ready to cry for a week: and you might come any day the year through but a Sunday, and not meet with him any more than if he had never a home to come to."
"If Mr Belfield's home-visits are so periodical," said Cecilia, "it must be rather less, than more, difficult to meet with him."
"Why you know, ma'am," answered Mrs Belfield, "to-day is a red-letter day, so that's the reason of it."
"A red-letter day?"
"Good lack, madam, why have not you heard that my son is turned book- keeper?"
Fanny Burney. Cecilia: Or, Memoirs of an Heiress. "Red-letter day" is one of those expressions we use quite frequently without really thinking about its ancestry. Everyone knows that a "red letter day" is one that stands out as imp…

Soul Cake and Souling

Soul, soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him what made us all!
Soul cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, one for Paul, and three for Him who made us all.All Souls' Day is one of the feast days of the Roman Catholic Church. All Souls is observed on November 2. Special prayers are offered for the deceased souls in Purgatory, believed to be waiting. All Souls follows All Saints Day on November 1, the day on which the saints in heaven are commemorated under the assumption that the souls languishing in purgatory should also be remembered and prayed for. All Souls' was established initially by Abbot Odilo of Cluny (d. 1049). All Souls' was widely celebrated by the 13th century. All Souls' is also known as Soulmas Day or Saumas.Prior to the Protestant Reformation, it was common in England and the British I…

Humor

humor noun
The quality that makes something laughable or amusing; funniness: could not see the humor of the situation.That which is intended to induce laughter or amusement: a writer skilled at crafting humor.The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd. See Synonyms at wit1.One of the four fluids of the body, blood, phlegm, choler, and black bile, whose relative proportions were thought in ancient and medieval physiology to determine a person's disposition and general health.That's not the complete definition from the American Heritage Dictionary, but it's enough for now. Modern English humor derives from Middle English, where humor largely referred to a bodily fluid; Middle English borrowed Old French umor, which is largely a borrowing from from Latin ūmor, hūmor, meaning "fluid." In earlier eras, our bodies were thought to be affected by the balance of four humors or fluids; blood, bile, phlegm and choler. These f…