Question: Why is Christmas sometimes abbreviated “X-mas?” (Asked by a curious Christian.)

Reply: I hope everyone is ready for the holidays… and the joys of paying the bills and keeping their New Year’s resolutions.

“X-mas” is a common abbreviation for Christmas, and the “X” in the abbreviation actually does have religious significance.

There is a story that the Roman Emperor Constantine had a vision (just before battle) that caused him to convert to Christianity. He saw the Greek letters Chi and Rho. The Chi is written as X and the Rho is written as P, which are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ.

So, XP is sometimes used to stand for Christ. At other times, X is used alone. This is the case for the Chi (X) abbreviation of “Christ” when using “X-mas.”

It is a misconception that the use of the term “X-mas” is a secular attempt to remove the religious implication from “Christmas” by taking the “Christ” out of Christmas. In fact, the use of “X-mas” dates back many centuries.

Still, some modern style manuals state that “X-mas” should never be used in print, such as in formal writing, newspapers and greeting cards. Some religious authorities are also vehemently against the use of “X-mas.”

However, it’s ultimately a matter of interpretation. Personally, when I wish someone a Merry Christmas, or a Merry “X-mas,” I’m wishing them the joys of the season inclusively. In the words of Shakespeare (from Romeo and Juliet), “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Advice is like castor oil: easy to give but dreadful to take.” — Josh Billings

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to curiosity-corner.net.