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Did you know? “Xmas” is NOT a Disrespectful Way to Spell “Christmas”

All roads lead to Greece

When researching the meaning behind historic cemetery symbols, I often joke that instead of finding that “all roads lead to Rome,” it seems 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 Roh symbol helped me learn the true meaning of Xmas! (photo by Tui Snider)

Xmas is perfectly respectful

When you see an XP symbol on a headstone it is a Christian symbol. Since Christ’s name starts with the letters X and P when spelled in Greek, XP (pronounced KEE-roe) 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.”

Xmas is ancient Christian 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!

Xmas is NOT pronounced “Exmas”

In more recent times, 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 “Xmas” on today’s holiday cards.

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

Are you interested in cemetery symbolism?

To read more about historic cemetery symbols,  I invite you to check out my book on the topic, Understanding Cemetery Symbols, which is a handy-dandy guide for taphophiles, genealogists, ghost hunters, and anyone else interested in the forgotten symbolic meaning behind tombstones and burial ground architecture.

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Published inCemeteries & SymbolismTravel Photo Essays


  1. Rae Holland Rae Holland

    How interesting to find this out about Xmas! I will now happily use it moving forward and not feel like I’m being disrespectful. Thank you friend. Merry Xmas to you and Larry!

    • Merry Xmas back atcha, Rae! Miss you buddy! Thanks for stopping by my blog. :D

  2. Brittani Brittani

    Great article! Thank you! I actually did know about this as my father is a retired Greek Orthodox Priest. However, I do know many that were unaware.
    You presented this very well with good information and without bias. Well done! But you tend to be great at these things! 💖

    Merry Yule to you and yours

    • Oh, wow! I will come to you when I have questions about Greek Orthodox symbols now – look out! ;p Thanks so much for commenting! (And to alerting me to the broken link in my newsletter.) Merry Xmas back atcha! :)

  3. 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! :)

  4. 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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