Who put the X in Xmas?

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who put the x in Christmas?

I have a page of notes in front of me: preparation for a talk from the Psalms and the Gospel of John. The page is full of tiny writing, and – in keeping with the shorthand custom I learned while at seminary – has no small amount of X’s and Θ’s.


The Greek word for God is ΘΕΟΣ (Theos), and so I write the first letter, a Theta (Θ) as a shorthand for God.

Similarly, the Greek word for Christ is ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos), and so I write the first letter, a Chi (Χ) as a shorthand for Christ.

The Early Christians did the same thing. The reason that the Fish became an emblem for early Christianity was not because of the large number of fisherman among the early disciples. The reason early Christians identified with a fish was because it had credal value. The Greek word for fish, ΙΧθΥΣ (Ichthus, from which we get ichthyology, the study of fish), also became an acronym for the foundational truths of the faith. The early Christians were the ones who believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (and) Savior).

In Greek, you would write those words this way:

IΕΣΥΣ (Jesus)

ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christ)

θΕΟΥ (of God)

ΥΙΟΣ (Son)

ΣΩΤΗΡ (Savior)

Put the first letters together… and it spells “fish”.


So, this is just to say that I’m one of those Christians who has a list in my house that say “Xmas presents”. And I mean nothing but honor in writing it this way.

Just in case anyone was wondering.


Photo Credit: Jim – Ixthus door at Brite (Flickr Creative Commons)

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9 thoughts on “Who put the X in Xmas?”

  1. I had heard and read that early Christians who were uncertain about finding someone of like belief and wary of persecution would draw an arc in the sand or dirt with their toes. If the other person did the same, with the arcs beginning at the same place and crossing at the other end both people would realize the other was a Christian also. And the resultant design in the sand or dirt would be a very simple symbol of a fish, much like the fish now seen in Christian stores and decorating the cars of Christian drivers.

  2. Thanks for your perspective, Bronwyn!
    It’s interesting to know that for a seminary student, X is shorthand for Jesus Christ.
    I guess that for many people, the first thing that comes to mind is the “X for an unknown variable” that we learn in algebra, and I understand how it might feel upsetting if it looks like “unknown” is used instead of “Christ.”

    I have sometimes wondered where that X in Xmas came from. But thanks to this TED talk, now I know why X is used in algebra: http://www.ted.com/talks/terry_moore_why_is_x_the_unknown

    ps. in my mother tongue, this question doesn’t arise, since the word for Christmas has no “Christ” or anything Christian in it – it’s derived from the same root as Yule, i.e. from the name of a pagan midwinter festival…

  3. Nice job, Bron. People who get their undies in a bunch over the X (it’s Chi for crying out loud!) in Xmas seem to me to be the same crowd who insist that Happy Holidays is Satanic. Sheesh!

  4. Thanks for sharing, this was interesting. My daughter came home from middle schoo, one day, and told me her teacher told the class not to spell Christmas with an X, as in Xmas. She told them it takes Christ out of Christmas.

  5. One of my high school Bible teachers told us this, and I’ve used “X” as a symbol for Christ ever since. Ditto for the theta symbol for God. (I use “Xn’s” for Christians, and “Xity” for Christianity, too. It’s my own personal shorthand for taking sermon notes.) I wish people would realize that Xmas DOESN’T take Christ out of Christmas; so many people get upset about this, and all it would take is a quick lesson in Greek to understand!

  6. Thank u so much 4 explaining the XOXO in Xmas. I use 2 use the XOXO but then hearing everyone else saying it takes Christ out of Christmas I felt guilty & stopped. Now I know I was wrong & I will go back 2 using both. Thank u so much 4 enlightening me on this! God Bless You !

  7. Pingback: Pick of the Clicks (December edition) | bronwyn's corner

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