The History Present
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
January 4, 2016
It has been a lot of fun recently reading Oregon Trail emigrant diary accounts and their experiences and perspectives of their long, hard journeys to reach the far off West to make a new life. One of the accounts was written by a young woman named Lucy Rutledge Cooke who made the trip West in 1852. At age 24, she and her husband and their baby girl spent many long months slowly traveling in a covered wagon headed to California. They spend the winter in the newly created Salt Lake City in what is today the state of Utah and then finished their journey to California the following spring. In her diary, she comments several times on her thoughts about religion and comparing Christianity and the Mormon faiths. She makes several references to "Xtians" in her diary on their journey and then when December came she talked about what would be happening at "Xmas."
It seemed quite odd to read in the diary of a Christian woman in 1852 using the words "Xtians" and "Xmas" referring to Christians and Christmas. Common belief today is that "Xmas" is a modern term that a lot of people get pretty upset about because they consider the "X" disrespectful and used by non-religious people and commercialized modern society to 'take Christ out of Christmas.'
Puzzled why a woman in 1852 used the word "Xmas," a quick internet search came up with that always-helpful website Wikipedia and their explanation that the "X" actually comes from the Greek letter Chi, which translates into English as literally meaning "Christ" and mas is for Mass. The Greek symbol looks like an X with a P in it. According to their explanation, the word Xmas has been used in religious documents, letters and communications for centuries dating back as far as 1021. The "X" has been an accepted written symbol literally meaning "Christ." What so many of us believe today is a blasphemy against Christ and demeaning of the spirit of the holy day of Christmas is in reality a case of people today having become very out of touch with knowledge of the very long history of Christians using "X" in place of "Christ" in documents for various purposes.
Learning history never ceases to amaze and humble for what we have forgotten and what can be re-found by reading original documents written by the people who came before us and doing some basic research. How often is the truth the exact opposite of what we think we know?
Those who get upset today seeing the word "Xmas" and feeling it is disrespectfully taking the Christ out of Christmas can now take new comfort in learning that it is actually continuing a centuries-old tradition of literally and respectfully keeping Christ in Christmas. Learning that has been a very special gift this Christmas, a present that didnít come in a box with a bow, but from reading an 1852 Oregon Trail diary account. This yearís special gift was a history present, and now I wonít feel bad ever again about writing or seeing "Merry Xmas!"
Xmas - Wikipedia