Thursday, December 6, 2007

Something Old Something New? - Xmas

It is a well known fact that I am a collector of dictionaries and old photographs. In this post I marry the two collections (again, showing my husband the benefit of all the money I spend educating myself - right honey?).

The beautiful young Edwardian woman you see in this photograph is one of the orphans in my photographic collection. She caught my eye not only for her beauty, but for the gold embossed Merry Xmas displayed at the bottom of her cabinet card.

"Beauty" probably sat for this Christmas portrait in the early 1900s.
Was Merry Xmas in use in the early 1900s? I thought Xmas was something new, could it be something old? To solve my mystery, I consulted my collection of dictionaries and found the following answer.

The Winston Dictionary
College Edition
- 1946 -

Xmas abbr. Christmas: - Xn., Christian (also Xtian.): -Xnty., Christianity (also Xty.)

Collegiate Dictionary
Eleventh Edition
- 2004 -

Xmas n [X symbol for Christ, fr. the GK letter chi (X), initial of Christos Christ) + -mas (in Christmas)] (1551): CHRISTMAS

"X" (as in chi) was used as an abbreviation for Christ from early times, some saying that it was initially a camouflage for the religion. It is the first letter of the word Christos (meaning "the anointed one," e.g., the Messiah) and fortuitously was cross-shaped. Xmas has been used as a scholarly and not-so-scholarly abbreviation since.

So, Xmas is not the "something new" I thought it was, but the "something old" of the Christian religion!

Merry Xmas "Beauty" and thank you for the history lesson!

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Becky Wiseman said...

My mother always told me to write out Christmas, to never use Xmas, because doing so was taking Christ out of Christmas, and thus changing the reason for the season. Several years ago, (I'm not sure where) I came across the definition you give in your post. After that, I didn't feel quite so bad about seeing it as Xmas though mother's words still have an impact.

December 6, 2007 at 7:48 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Merry Xmas Becky:

So good to hear from you!

Our Mother's words have an impact because we were taught to respect our Mothers and what they said.

My Mother never let me write Xmas either, so I'm making up for it starting right now. But I do it with all due respect to "Mom."


December 6, 2007 at 8:07 PM  
Blogger Jasia said...

Yep, me too. My mom always told me not to use Xmas because it was disrespectful. I too learned just last year that it is not. It's even condoned by the Catholic church.

Great post, fM!

December 7, 2007 at 5:18 AM  
Blogger Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

I always had the same hesitation (not because my mother suggested it, but because X just didn't seem right). I learned a few years ago the truth about the X, but still it feels funny to me to write it that way. I find myself often forcing my pen (or typing fingers) to complete the whole word, even if I'm in a hurry.

Thanks for the good information! Please tell your husband that we appreciate the time (and money) you've spent to educate yourself and are thankful that you're sharing your knowledge with others.

December 7, 2007 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger Terry Thornton said...

Maven, First, WELCOME BACK! It is always good to read your posts --- and you've been missed.

I'm go glad you wrote about XMAS. I used the word in my list of Country Words and Saying A to Z back in October. Then I said something very much like so many of your commenters: "During my childhood at Parham, we were scolded by the self-appointed do-gooders not to use Xmas as that left Christ out of Christmas."

Wonder if there were a national publication that spread this same "tale of disrespect" to all the various sections of our country? It appears that we all were scolded for the same reason. Interesting.

December 8, 2007 at 6:43 AM  
Blogger Janice said...


Quite an intriguing post. Growing up I used to catch hell if I wrote Xmas instead of Christmas.


December 11, 2007 at 7:50 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home