Let’s Keep the Chi in Xmas

For my first semester of college I attended the local community college. I was Baptist at the time, so as soon as I arrived I joined the Baptist Student Union. A few months later the Christmas season was upon us and some members suggested we promote a ‘Put Christ back in Christmas’ campaign as an objection against the term ‘Xmas’, where the name of Christ is ‘X’d’ out.

They seemed excited about it, but after a bit of discussion I spoke up: “Wait a minute guys; Christ is already in Xmas!” I then explained the ancient use of the Greek letter ‘X’ (Chi) for ‘Christ’; there is nothing nefarious about it.

Another old example is the name ‘Xopher’ (Christopher)

Most of the earliest Christians spoke Greek, and Christ is spelled ‘Χριστός’. So in their writings they abbreviated words that began with ‘Christ’ as ‘X’ (‘Xian’ for example).

This surprised some of the students, but they accepted the explanation and we didn’t do the campaign. But they were not the only ones who misunderstand the use of Xmas. Many believers mistakenly think it is a deliberate attempt to take Jesus out of the Christmas season.

Keep chi in xmas

Other Abbreviations Related to Jesus

Every year around this time believers begin campaigning to put Christ back in Xmas with the idea that the ‘X’ in ‘Xmas’ crosses out Christ. But if we object to the use of ‘X’ to represent ‘Christ’, should we also object to other abbreviations that do not spell out ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’? I don’t think anyone wants that.

Here are a number of such abbreviations.

XP – Chi-Rho. Another ancient abbreviation used in the church is the Chi-Rho symbol for Christ, which comprises the first two letters of ‘Χριστός’ (Christos); the P is superimposed over the X to create a Christogram. The Chi element in the symbol also depicts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and you can still see the Chi-Rho in Christian contexts today.

IXθYΣ. Who hasn’t ridden behind a car displaying this set of Greek letters inside the outline of a fish? The word IXθYΣ (sounds like Ickthoos) is Greek for ‘Fish’–a symbol used very early by Christians as a code indicating that one is a Christian. The letters represent Jesus Christ, Son (of) God, Savior.

IHS (Iota, Eta, Sigma). Many churches also use the early symbol IHS which are capitals of the first three letters of Jesus in Greek (ΙΗΣΟΎΣ). It is found on communion wafers, altars, baptismal fonts, books, stained glass, and in other places.

INRI (Latin). The earliest of all abbreviations representing Jesus is found in the Bible itself, but it was not a Greek abbreviation but a Latin one. When Pilate had Jesus crucified, he ordered a placard nailed on the cross above his head bearing ‘INRI’, which in Latin stands for Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews.

Early believers also used an abbreviation for a word describing Jesus that did not include the words ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’. It is still popular today.

– Alpha and Omega. Everyone is familiar with the Alpha-Omega; the phrase is found in three places in the book of Revelation to represent Jesus as the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Abbreviations for Jesus are Part of Our Christian Heritage

These abbreviations are part of our rich heritage. What a loss for us if we no longer had these old symbols of Jesus; let’s not try to ban any of these legitimate abbreviations for our Lord—including Xmas.

So MERRY XMAS to you! I hope you are having a happy holiday season.


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32 Responses to Let’s Keep the Chi in Xmas

  1. tonycutty says:

    Good post. People are far too anal about all that abbreviation stuff, and thank you for clarifying it 🙂

    Besides, everyone knows that Star Wars is now the ‘Reason for the Season’… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. tonycutty says:

    Oh and please let’s never forget that, even amongst all the hype and commercialism, this is realy the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Brian 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Myra says:

    Thanks for the post, I’ll have to admit that I was naive and unaware of this. I appreciate learning new things and having my thoughts challenged each week!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post. I love the image in the middle. Have you done a post on the fact that the Bible was written in ancient languages, not modern English? And that our English bibles are translations that sometimes skew what was actually written. For example, how the Greek often emphasizes the verb while English emphasizes the subject.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Luther, I agree that is a great image; I don’t recall where I found it. I often refer to the Greek in biblical passages, but I don’t think I have dedicated a post to the specific issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Anthony Paul says:

    Thanks for a very eye-opening post, Tim. It’s kind of ironic that even if the unbelieving world is trying to “X” Christ out of the seasonal festivities as I believe many do, they have been hoist by their own petard thanks to the connotation of the Greek “X”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anthony, I think you are right. Unbelievers can be as uninformed on such issues as some believers are.


  6. Karen says:

    Great post, Tim. I recently saw “keep the Mass in Christmas”, a gentle poke at Christians to walk our own talk and engage in worship ourselves more than in telling nonbelievers how they should talk during the season!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Great post, thank you, Tim.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Steve says:

    I’m just short of amazed that this is even an issue amongst folks these days! I mean, even Google with its questionable biases as of late produces this with a simple search:


    Liked by 1 person

  9. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, many icons use these abbreviations. Another unfortunate example of Christian ignorance.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. luckyotter says:

    This is really interesting! I agree too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Johanna O'Brien says:

    Nice clarification, but this language is no longer used in our day to day communication. The average person on the street has no clue as to its origins. 21st century people interpret this out of the 21st century mindset, in which the “x” becomes the unknown variable. It can be a substitute for anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Of course you are right, Johanna. But it is still misinformed and misguided to wield war on Xmas based on faulty assumptions. And it gets passed from one to another without anyone investigating the claim.

      But I would say this language IS used in our day to day communication during the Christmas season.


  12. Chas says:

    Tim, a number of years ago (where the number is probably greater than fifteen!), I encountered a person on a Messianic web-site who was using ‘Xian’ as a derogative term for Christians. Why he chose to do that was not, and still is not, clear. It might be that he wished to distinguish between a Jewish and a Gentile believer in Jesus, or maybe he was a Jewish person who no longer believed that Jesus was the Son of God and was trying to persuade Jewish believers against this belief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, this is a very odd us of Xian; I have never encountered it before. Thanks for sharing the information.


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