I was sitting in another ward’s sacrament meeting on Sunday listening to the testimonies. I heard this teenage boy say something like “I’ve seen how a lot of people like to write X-mas instead of Christmas. They’re taking Christ out of Christmas.”

That X-mas is a way of taking Christ out of Christmas, is something I’ve heard many times growing up and even believed for a while. I agree with the sentiment that things like “happy holidays” is taking Christ and the Christan part of the holidays away. However, its completely incorrect to say that writing “X-mas” instead of “Christmas” is anti-Christ.

chi-rhoThe truth is that “X-Mas” is simply an abbreviated way of writing “Christmas”. The two Greek letters that look like X and P are called “Chi” (pronounced “kai”) and “Rho” (pronounced “row”) respectively. When combined into “XP” they form the first part of the name Christ. In Greek “XP”=”Chi-Rho”=”Chr”.

In early Christianity, the two characters where superimposed on each other so that the stem on the Rho went through the middle of the Chi. Together they formed what is called the Labarum. This symbol became synonymous with Christianity, being Christian, and Christ himself. According to some accounts, it was this symbol that Constantine the Great saw in his vision shortly before the battle of Milvian Bridge. In the vision he was instructed by God that if he put this Christian symbol on the shields of his soldiers, he would triumph in battle. Constantine won, and the battle was a major victory both for his becoming the Roman Emperor, and for Christianity, a religion that had previously been a minority often persecuted by the poly-theists of the day.

Image:Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna 003.jpg

The Chi-Rho can be found on many coins, murals, stonework, etc. from the time of Constantine on. This mosaic from the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy depicts the Court of Emperor Justinian with (right) archbishop Maximian (left). Note the Chi-Rho symbol on the shield of the soldier.

Putting an X in place of Christ in Christmas, is not crossing Christ out of the word. Its simply abbreviating the name of Christ with the greek letters for “Ch.” It might (though this is purely personal speculation) have come about as a way of keeping the name of Christ more sacred, by not repeating it too often. Much the same way that modern Jews don’t say the name of God out loud. Its out of respect for the sacredness of Deity, not an attempt to remove Him from the holiday.

Thanks to Brother Jerry Hansen of BYU-Idaho for cluing me in to these ideas.