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Why is Xmas Short for Christmas? (Hint: It relates to #historic #cemetery #symbols )

All roads lead to Greece

When researching the meaning behind historic cemetery symbols, I often joke that “all roads lead to Greece.” Here’s a good example: While looking into the meaning of the XP symbol that is such a common sight in historic cemeteries, I had a realization.

The Chi Rho symbol helped me learn the true meaning of Xmas! (photo by Tui Snider)
The Chi Rho symbol helped me learn the true meaning of Xmas! (photo by Tui Snider)

Xmas is perfectly respectful

An XP symbol on a headstone is a Christian symbol. Since Christ’s name starts with the letters X and P when spelled in Greek, XP is often used as shorthand for “Christ.” (I will go into more detail about the XP symbol in a future post.)

That’s when it hit me: You see, up until that moment, I had assumed that “Xmas” was a non-religious way of spelling “Christmas.”

As it turns out, there is nothing secular or disrespectful in the use of Xmas for Christmas.

Ancient shorthand

In fact, “Xmas” traces its origins back to ancient religious scribes. There is nothing new about it at all! It’s just that 1000 years ago, a clever scribe realized that the Greek letter Chi, which is written as X, was a useful substitution for “Christ,” not just in the word Christmas, but in other words such as christian (xtian) and christianity (xtianity.) To them, “Xmas” was a perfectly respectful shorthand for “Christmas.”

It’s not just religious scribes who avoid hand cramps with this clever abbreviation. Florists have been known to prune the lengthy word “Chrysanthemum” by spelling it “Xant.” And in the 17th and 18th centuries, “Christine” was often spelled “Xene” or “Exene.” (Another epiphany for me as a fan of the punk band X, who’s lead singer changed the spelling of her first name to Exene! )

I should also point out that when you pronounce the word “Xmas” as “exmas,” you are again missing the point!

Yet another modern misconception

Somewhere along the line, the mistaken idea that Xmas is a disrespectful term took hold. Many modern style guides, for instance, discourage the use of Xmas and it’s rare to see Christmas spelled that way on holiday cards.

For now, at least, you and I both know the true meaning of Xmas! Merry Xmas to you and yours. :)

More posts about historic cemetery symbolism:

I am currently writing a book called Messages from the Dead: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism. I share excerpts from my research (such as the post you just read) on this blog.  It’s my goal to create a handy-dandy pocket guide for taphophiles, genealogists, ghost hunters, and anyone else interested in the historic graveyard symbols that have become forgotten over the years.

Would to be on my Advance Review Team?

If you are as fascinated by historic graveyards and meaning of cemetery symbols, consider joining my Advance Review Team. This Advance Review Team (a.k.a. ART) will receive copies of my upcoming field guide to cemetery symbols well before it is actually published. For details on how to take part, simply sign up for my newsletter below:

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Tui Snider having fun on a Texas road trip!
Tui Snider having fun on a Texas road trip!

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Tui Snider

Tui Snider is an author, speaker, and photographer who specializes in quirky, haunted, and downright bizarre destinations. As she puts it, “I used to write fiction – but then, I moved to Texas!” Snider's writing and photography have been featured in a variety of publications, including Coast to Coast AM, FOX Travel News, LifeHack, Langdon Review, the City of Plano, Wild Woman Waking, Shades of Angels and more. Snider’s award-winning books include Paranormal Texas, The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber, and Unexpected Texas. Snider has several more books in progress, including a Field Guide to Cemetery Symbols and a book about the Great Texas Airship Mystery of 1897. Tui has worn a lot of hats in her life – literally – and is especially fond of berets. She enjoys connecting with writers and readers all over the globe through social media, her newsletter and her website:
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Published inCemeteries & SymbolismTravel Photo Essays


  1. I can’t help it, whenever I see Xmas, I say in my head exmas. LOL

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      I still do too, actually! Old habits are hard to break! :)

  2. Holly P. Holly P.

    How interesting! I quit using Xmas a while ago because to be more respectful, but now I will use it again and if anyone asks, I can tell them what I learned here.

    How is your cemetery symbolism book? Will it be done soon? I saw you at the library in September. AMAZING TALK! I really want to read that one! I hope you will publish many more articles about it. Keep up the good work! And Merry Xmas to you. :)

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi, Holly! So glad you enjoyed my talk on cemetery symbols. I hope you stuck around afterwards and got a copy of the handout I gave everyone. If not, let me know!

      My cemetery symbols book… Hoo boy! I am working so hard on it! I haven’t picked an exact publication date for it, but it will be in the spring of 2017. If you want to keep up on it, sign up for my newsletter, which I send out every week or so.

      Thanks again for your kind words! Really makes my day! :)

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