The most popular article from last year’s Goreletter was “Holiday X” — an essay on the X in Xmas — and since it’s that, um, “most wonderful time of the year” once again, I thought I’d reprint that article here (while I work on the December issue’s “Blather” column). To read “Holiday X” click below or go directly to the archived copy of vol 1.4.
by Michael A. Arnzen
I love Xmas. Not the holiday, per se.
The abbreviation. Any abbreviation that
uses the letter X gets my nod of
approval. I marvel at the Chinese
Puzzle of the road sign that reads
“Deer Xing.” I muse over the strange
aversion to E in words like “Xtra.” I
adore the arachnid-like contraction of
“tickets” into “tix.” And I still sublimely
wonder, after all these years, what
XXX really stands for, and how my
loved ones can still sign a letter XXX
and OOO with a straight face.
From quixotic to quincunx, I love the
enigmatic X. Especially when it’s near
a Q. It’s nature’s expectorant.
But I’m no dupe: I won’t stand for brand
names that commercialize my letter X.
I won’t buy anyone Microsoft’s “X-box”
for Xmas, for Xample. And I won’t rent
that Vin Diesel action film called XXX,
either, no matter how hard they try to
convince me that “action” film is a
euphemism for porn.
The sporting world misunderstands the
X. The XFL is a case in point. And until
the dictionary includes the word
“athletiX,” can we please give Xtreme
sports like Dental Floss Bungie
Jumping a rest? For one thing, the
letter X is not playing a game with us.
It’s serious business. For another, all
these “Xtreme sports” were dreamed
up by the editorial board of some
snowboarding magazine … which I
imagine to be comprised of Beavis,
Spicoli, Wayne Campbell, and both the
actors from Dude, Where’s My Car?
(with Keeanu Reeves acting as editor-
in-chief, naturally). These guys couldn’t
even count to X in the Roman Numeral
Maybe it’s just the times we’re living in.
Generation X is selling eXtacy to
Generation Y. I don’t know what that
means, but I think it’s very strange, and
I wish Gen Y would stick to their own
letter and sniff Yte out instead. The
world is chewing up way too many
precious resources on glowstiX as it is.
I might complain about the way our
culture capitalizes on the letter X, but I
do make Xceptions for worX of art. I
haven’t read much XJ Kennedy, but I’m
sure he’s a damned good poet. Spike
Lee’s “X” was a wonderful movie.
“Heard It On The X” is a decent ZZ
Top song (though they chose the
wrong letter…ZZ means “sleep” to
me!). The X-Men were great comiX.
And The X-Files on FoX weren’t so
Putting “The” in front of “X” is
dangerous business. X is a scary
letter. And the “The” makes everything
a little scarier than it already is. It
makes everything sound like The End.
X is a good name for a baby. Or any
fictional character. There are
characters named M and a Q in the
James Bond films, but why no X?
(Don’t tell me that Drax from
Moonraker has already taken that
letter… Drax is the name of a bug
repellent, for crying out loud!) So if
you’re thinking about raising a baby,
call it X and be sure to turn it into some
sort of insane villain with a facial scar.
Or a businessperson. Executive
Officers are called XOs. I’d like to have
a kid, name him or her X (depending,
of course, the X chromosome) and
then train it to become XO X. How do I
accomplish this? I’m not sure, but I
think a football play chart is involved.
Which brings me back to Xmas. What
if the X in Xmas were used in other
words featuring Christ? I’m a Xian. I
was blessed at my Xening. As a
follower of Xianity, I worship X because
X died for my sins. Now Jesus X
almighty, will you pull over at that
TeXaco and ask for directions?
Or what might our shorthand for Christ
mean if we put it in other X words?
Would children still hammer so
annoyingly if it were called a
christylophone? Would adults still fear
the radiation of a Christ-ray, or would
they toss their lead vests assunder?
Would Marvin Gaye still need
sechristual healing? Perhaps.
I suspect the X in Xmas doesn’t mean
“Christ” at all — it probably signifies a
cross, instead (as I’m sure the logo for
any Christian death metal band will
indicate). That’s why illiterates sign
contracts with them. I doubt Jesus
staked that claim in Texas.
You see, X has always been a sign of
our laziness with the English language.
Americans are good at taking
shortcuts. Texas is a great place
because it’s so huge — almost the size
of Alaxka — but it also sounds an awful
lot like shorthand for something that
was probably much much longer in the
original Aztec (like Texasloucuhlan or
The Aztecs were the most comfortable
with the letter X. That’s what makes
them cool. The X — and all that beating
heart removal business. If it wasn’t for
that space between “Merry” and
“Xmas” we might have some holiday
that sounded like an Aztec city:
“Merixmas.” And we’d probably put a
little more heart into our family get
So Merry Xmas to you. And while you
snort egg nog from a snifter, please
figure out how we might take short cuts
on the other holidays with long words
in them. Valentine’s Day? HapE Vals.
Halloween? Just “trix.” Thanksgiving?
Good Eats. The rest? Etc.