Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is “Xmas” Disrespectful?

By Susan Esther Barnes

It being December, I’ve been seeing the word “Xmas” a lot lately. I have also been seeing the word “Xtian,” which I don’t remember seeing before. I’ve also been seeing some discussions on whether or not the use of these words instead of “Christmas” and “Christian” is rude or disrespectful. And it seems to me that all of these discussions are missing the point.

There seem to be two popular “common sense” explanations for the use of the “X” in Xmas. The first is akin to any common abbreviation, like “BFF” or “LOL”. In other words, it’s just a faster, less character-intensive way of saying the same thing.

The other popular belief is that the “X” was substituted by those who are trying to remove the word “Christ” from the holiday. Thus, writing Xmas is a way to secularize the holiday, to remove its religious connotations, perhaps even to make it more accessible to those who don’t identify themselves as Christian or religious.

Therefore, I was interested to learn that “Xmas” is not a modern word. It has been around for a long time, and originated because “X” is the Greek letter “Chi,” which is a common abbreviation for “Kristos,” or “Christ.” As a result, Xmas did not arise due to the texting generation, nor did it arise as an effort to erase “Christ” from the name.

The word “Christ” means Messiah, or “Anointed One.” Now, many Jews believe there actually was a man named Jesus back in the day, but that he was not the Messiah. That means Jews who are careful about their language refer to him only as “Jesus” or “Jesus of Nazareth” but not as “Jesus Christ,” since doing so would call him by an honorific to which we believe he is not entitled. If we really wanted to take the “Christ” out of “Christmas,” we ought to call it something like “Jesusmas” instead.

At any rate, many people argue that using the word “Xmas” is not at all disrespectful, because it doesn’t imply laziness on the part of the writer, nor does it in any way eliminate “Christ” from the word. I believe these people are missing the point.

One could argue that disrespect may be in the eye of the beholder. Thus, because so many people seem to mistakenly believe that “Xmas” removes “Christ” from “Christmas,” one could argue that the word “Xmas” should be avoided in order not to offend these people. Sometimes ignorance is not bliss.

Even if you don’t believe people should make concessions to the ignorant, the intent of the writer is being ignored in this discussion, and I believe it should not be. For instance, at least one writer says she felt “more comfortable” after hearing that writing “Xmas” was a way for Jews to remove “Christ” from the holiday.

Now, if that isn’t disrespectful, I don’t know what is. What gives her, or anyone, the right to try to remove the religious figure from another religion’s holiday? Plus, she says it’s the Jews who are responsible for it. What a way to give Jews a bad name for something that has nothing to do with us!

One of the things I love about Judaism is we don’t believe anyone has to convert to Judaism to be a good person or to earn a place in the world-to-come (what the Christians would call heaven). As long as a person follows the covenant God made with Noah (a subset of the rules Christians refer to as the “Ten Commandments”), they’re all set. As a result, there is no need for Jews to try to convert Christians, or to try to negate their religion or their holiday.

So I conclude, if you’re certain you won’t be misunderstood, and you acknowledge that the “X” is the same as “Christ” or “Kristos,” then go ahead and use “Xmas.” Otherwise, show a little respect, and spend the few extra keystrokes to say “Christmas.”


  1. And here I thought the X was a criss-cross, so it was like Criss-mas. I guess you learn something new every day. :)

  2. Yes, I can see how you'd think that!

  3. Years ago, a Lutheran friend of mine told me that he was offended by my use of the "X" in Xmas. This was long before texting or even email. (I was just using shorthand.) I'm guessing that it's best to err on the side of caution in an effort not to offend anyone.

  4. Love this, Susan! It *is* all about intent and perception, right? I will admit to having used the big X in the past (Laziness. Pure laziness.) but once I heard about the offense that might taken, etc. extra keystrokes (Or cut & paste!) for me! ThX (I just couldn't resist it!) for putting the convo on the table, lady!

  5. good post. i honestly dont see why calling it chistmas is some big deal. we say saturday and january both of which have pagan rooted names, as do the rest of days of the week and months of the yr. granted many people use the Hebrew calendar but in common day American nobody hesitates to say "I'll see you Wednesday at 3" for example.

    It's christmas. Jews don't celebrate it. that's all.

  6. Yeah, yeah ! I still agree with Christopher Hitchens. Religion (all of them ) poisons everything ! Water is still water whether or not it's salty or full of excrement.