Christmas is also sometimes known as Xmas. Some people don’t think it’s correct to call Christmas ‘Xmas‘ as that takes the ‘Christ’ (Jesus) out of Christmas. (As Christmas comes from Christ-Mass, the Church service that celebrated the birth of Jesus.)
But that is not quite right! In the Greek language and alphabet, the letter that looks like an X is the Greek letter chi / Χ (pronounced ‘kye’ – it rhymes with ‘eye’) which is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos.
The early church used the first two letters of Christos in the Greek alphabet ‘chi’ and ‘rho’ to create a monogram (symbol) to represent the name of Jesus. This looks like an X with a small p on the top: ☧
The symbol of a fish is sometimes used by Christians (you might see a fish sticker on a car or someone wearing a little fish badge). This comes from the time when the first Christians had to meet in secret, as the Romans wanted to kill them (before Emperor Constantine became a Christian). Jesus had said that he wanted to make his followers ‘Fishers of Men’, so people started to use that symbol.
When two Christians met, one person drew half a basic fish shape (often using their foot in the dust on the ground) and the other person drew the other half of the fish. The Greek word for fish is ‘Ikthus’ or ‘Ichthys’. There are five Greek letters in the word. It can also make up a sentence of Christian beliefs ‘Ie-sous Christos Theou Huios So-te-r’ which in English means “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”. The second letter of this five letter is X or Christos!
So Xmas can also mean Christmas, but it should also be pronounced ‘Christmas’ rather than ‘ex-mas’!
Christmas across the Middle East
“Xmas” is a common abbreviation of the word “Christmas”. The “-mas” part is from the Latin-derived Old English word for “Mass”, while the “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, translated as “Christ”.
There is a common misconception that the word Xmas is a secular attempt to remove the religious tradition from Christmas by taking the “Christ” out of “Christmas”. While “Xmas” is considered to be an informal abbreviation, and should never be used in formal writing, it is historically correct.
The word “Christ” and its compounds, including “Christmas”, have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern “Xmas” was commonly used. “Christ” was often written as “XP” or “Xt”; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021.
This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ and ρ used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for “Christ”), and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ. The labarum, an amalgamation of the two Greek letters rendered as ☧, is a symbol often used to represent Christ in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian Churches.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of “X-” or “X-” for “Christ-” as early as 1485. The terms “Xian” and “Xtian” have also been used for “Christian”.
The dictionary further cites the usage of “Xtianity” for “Christianity” from 1634. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from “educated Englishmen who knew their Greek”.In ancient Christian art, χ and χρ are abbreviations for Christ’s name.
In many manuscripts of the New Testament and icons, Χ is an abbreviation for Χριστος, as is XC (the first and last letters in Greek, using the lunate sigma); compare IC for Jesus in Greek.”