What's the Origin of 'Xmas?'
Posted by KAREN WOJCIK BERNER
Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?
With Christmas only five days away, I thought we’d discuss some words and phrases associated with the holiday and the origins behind them.
The Associated Press Stylebook 2016 (AP) states Christmastime should be all one word.
AP suggests to lowercase the word tree and other seasonal terms paired with Christmas, including Christmas card, Christmas wreath, and Christmas carol. The exception is the National Christmas Tree. Why? Probably because it's an official title. That's my guess.
Reindeer is both a singular and plural word. Every time someone uses reindeers, an angel loses its wings. Just kidding. But seriously, don’t do it.
According to the Bible, the Magi are the wise men who visited baby Jesus. This visit is commemorated by Christians on Epiphany, January 6. Encyclopædia Britannica states that "according to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India."
Only the first word is capitalized in Nativity scene, according to AP.
Some people think using the word Xmas takes the “Christ” out of Christmas, but that’s not true. According to Merriam-Webster.com, X is a symbol for Christ from the Greek letter chi (X), so Xmas really stands for the initial of Christ + mas, hence an abbreviation for Christmas.
Although AP lists Yule as an “Old English name for the Christmas season,” that’s not really the whole story. Yule has its roots in pagan cultures long before Christ. Many older civilizations celebrated festivals to coincide with the Winter Solstice on December 21, including the Celts, as well as the Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse tribes. The Roman Saturnalia also occurred during that same week. When Christianity rose to power, it’s traditions were blended with the pagan’s to form our present-day Yuletide season.
In fact, several things we associate with Christmas have pagan origins, such as caroling, decorating with boughs of holly and evergreen, kissing under the mistletoe, and making wreaths.
Season’s Greetings to you and yours. Hope you have a great holiday.
Join me next week for a quick year-end grammar tip.
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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.
The Associated Press Stylebook, 2016 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
The Bugaboo Review: A lighthearted guide to exterminating confusion about words, spelling, and grammar
A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.