Curiosity Corner ‘Xmas’ explained

Curiosity Corner


Dr. Jerry D. Wilson

Emeritus Professor of Physics

Lander University

Question: Why is Christmas sometimes abbreviated Xmas? (Asked by a curious Christian.)

Reply: I hope everyone made it through the holidays. Now come the joys of paying the bills and keeping New Year’s resolutions.

Xmas is a common abbreviation for Christmas. There is a story that the Roman Emperor Constantine had a vision (before winning a 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 as P, which are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ. So XP is sometimes used to stand for Christ, and sometimes X is used alone. This is the case for the Chi (X) abbreviation of Christ in Xmas.

There is a misconception that the word Xmas is a secular attempt to remove the religious implication from “Christmas” by taking the “Christ” out of Christmas, even though its use dates back for centuries. Some modern style manuals state that Xmas should never be used in print … for example, in formal writing, newspapers and greeting cards. Some religious authorities are vehemently against the use of Xmas.

It is a matter of interpretation. Personally, when I wish people a Merry Christmas or Merry Xmas, I’m wishing them the joys of the season inclusively. As Shakespeare wrote in “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 Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to

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