Published: 28th February 2017
Why do we say 'merry' Xmas? What is Xmas? Why not Happy Xmas?
Take a look at the inner details of the celebration of Christmas, why we say 'merry' and much more
Christmas is just over. We must have used the terms Christmas and Xmas on numerous occasions in our normal conversations and greetings when Christmas was around the corner. A reader has sent in this query: Why is Christmas called Xmas? Another reader wants to know the etymology of Santa Claus. Yet another reader wants to know why we say ‘merry’ Christmas.
Christmas, which has its origin in Greek, is a combination of two words: Christ and Mass. Literally, ‘Christmas’ means Christ’s Mass. Xmas is an informal term and abbreviation for Christmas, the Greek letter chi (X) being the initial letter of Christ. Those who consider Xmas a non-religious version of Christmas may not know that the letter ‘X’ indicates Christ. It is incorrect to spell Xmas as Xt-mas or X-mas.
How is Xmas pronounced? Xmas is pronounced the same as Christmas /krɪs.məs/./ˈeks.məs/ is also an acceptable pronunciation for Xmas.
Should “a” or “an” precede Xmas? It depends how we pronounce the word. When Xmas is pronounced as /krɪs.məs/, the article “a” precedes the word and when Xmas is pronounced as /ˈeks.məs/, the article “an” precedes the word as in the examples below:
- I’m going to buy a Xmas gift for my son. (Here Xmas is pronounced /krɪs.məs/)
- I received an Xmas greeting card yesterday. (Here Xmas is pronounced /ˈeks.məs/)
When we think of Christmas, the image of Santa Claus, a fat old man with a red suit and white beard, springs to mind. Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, is a person who brings gifts for children on the eve of Christmas.
Where was the American Santa Claus born? The modern Santa Claus was born in a small town in Turkey, evolved in northern Europe and became a legend in the US. The name Santa Claus evolved from Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nicholas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas)
Gerry Bowler in his book Santa Claus: A Biography explains how St Nicholas became known as a magical gift bringer. One of the tales is that three girls were saved from a life of prostitution when Bishop Nicholas secretly delivered three bags of gold which could be used for the girls’ dowries. In 1821 an anonymous poem entitled “The Children’s Friend” associated Santa Claus with Christmas. The real image of Santa Claus, stripped of religious characteristics and dressed in the furs of Germanic gift bringers, was clear by then.
Why do we say ‘merry’ Christmas and a “happy” new year? The word ‘merry’, which means being cheerful and lively, is associated with festivity, celebration and enjoyment. Though the term “merry Christmas” was first used in 1534 in a letter written by Bishop John Fisher to Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell and in the 16th century carol “We wish you a merry Christmas”, it became popular only after 1843 when Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol was published.