Is it Xmas or X-mas?
Look around at Schiphol at this time of year, and you’ll see all sorts of “X-mas special offers” being advertised. Nothing wrong with using the abbreviated form of Christmas, you may say. The only trouble is that Xmas (pronounced EX-mus) is written in English without a hyphen (Dutch verbindingsstreepje). Those who feel it should be written with a hyphen are perhaps getting confused with X-ray.
However, most style books recommend that you avoid the short form altogether, except in advertising or when space is short: Christmas (pronounced KRISS-mus) is much preferred.
Give us a kiss!
Where does the X in Xmas come from? It stands for ‘Christ’, being both the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Christ’s name, and a symbol of the cross.
X is also used to represent a kiss at the end of letters or messages – so how did that come about? It apparently goes back to the Middle Ages, when people who couldn’t write their name were allowed to sign documents with an X (X may have been chosen because it represented a solemn oath made in the name of Christ). The ‘signing’ was done before witnesses, and the signer kissed the ‘X’ to show sincerity (rather as one might kiss the Bible or place one hand on it while taking an oath today). In this way, the association between X and a kiss became established.
Well, it’s a good story to tell someone while moving them to the right place in the room for a surprise kiss – under the mistletoe!