Where did the term 'Christmas' come from, what is the meaning and why is it shortened to Xmas?

But ever wondered what the word "Christmas" actually means, or where it came from? Here's all you need to know…

Where does the term "Christmas" come from and what does it mean?

Most of us would assume it originates from the word Christ, as the whole idea of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus (no, it's not just about the presents).

To a point that is the case – the word is a shortened form of "Christ's mass", or "Cristes Maesse" as it was first recorded in 1038.

This was followed by the term Cristes-messe in 1131, according to the The Catholic Encyclopedia.

The term "Christ" – or Crīst as it originally read – comes from the Greek word Khrīstos, a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means "anointed".

The second part of Christmas – maesse – is a version of the Latin word missa, the celebration of the Eucharist tradition of eating bread and drinking wine in memory of Jesus.

This is also called Holy Communion and the Lord's Supper.

When did we start celebrating Christmas?

Interestingly, early Christians actively rejected the celebration of Christ’s birth as they saw birthdays as a pagan ritual, followed in the bible by figures like the Pharaoh.

Easter and Pentecost (celebrated seven weeks after Easter to mark the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ) were the main occasions in the Christian calendar for ecclesiastical feasts until midway through the fourth century, when Christmas and Epiphany were added to the calendar.

December 25 was then established as the Nativity Feast Day (not necessarily the day Jesus was born – but that's another story) and the official 'Nativity Mass' was the first Mass of the day, held at 9am.

As time passed, the celebration of Christmas became more popular – and so too did the liturgical practices that went with it.

Christmas Mass became a central fixture in the church calendar, which led to the day becoming known as Christ's Mass by the 11th century.

Why is Christmas shortened to Xmas?

It turns out we've got the Greeks to thank for that.

As we mentioned earlier, the word Khrīstos (the origin of the word Christ) appears as "Χριστός" when written in Greek.

The abbreviation Xmas is based on the first letter – chi, which appears as X – followed by "mas"; a shortened version of Mass.

There is an alternative theory that the use of Xmas stems from an attempt by some to remove the religious tradition from Christmas by removing the word Christ, but it's use dates all the way back to the 16th century.

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