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How “X” was your Christmas?

(Article published in the Dec 26, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

 It was my mother who first called my attention to it.  When I, as a Freshman writer at the lowest rung of the Torres Torch, then headed by Torres High School’s luminaries like Efren Yambot, asked her what would be nice write about for the school paper’s December issue, she immediately replied:  “Criticize those who use “X” in place of “Christ” in “Christmas.”   

At that age, I could easily identify with my mother’s indignation.  “Santa” had long ceased to be at the center of our Yuletide celebrations as soon my parents found out that, although no longer believing in the jolly old fellow’s annual visits because my De Jesus cousins had previously shown me where my folks were kept the goodies to be stuffed into the oversized red sock on Christmas eve, I nevertheless continued to pretend belief just to keep the candies coming. 

The belen immediately took Santa’s place at the center stage in the house and clearly the child in the manger was not in any manner suggesting he was the letter “X” even as the reclining Sto. Nino had his legs crossed.  Years of Jesuit indoctrination have since then challenged the historicity of that imaginative construction of the Nativity Scene by St. Francis of Assisi, not a Jesuit; but, when you are not yet 15, and your mother, whom your parents’ friends, like the Malays, say held an editorial position when she was a senior in the same paper you are striving to be staff member of, suggests a topic, filial decorum demands you take the topic, at the very least, seriously.

Thus, it was actually really easy to give reasons against “X”.  Algebra taught by Mrs. Timario at the Ampil Annex on Juan Luna Street had only one use for “x”.  It was the unknown to solve for, and woe unto you if you could not say what “x” was equals to.  Before Algebra, there was Arithmetic, days on end when “x” meant one number “times” (pronounced by kids like me at the Lakan Dula Elementary School on Solis Street as “tay-mis”) another.  “X” was at the center column of that odious instrument of torture called Multiplication Table.


        But both in First year Algebra or in Grade Six Arithmetic, “x” was not something you would want to see, particularly when colored red, on your test paper.  It was the opposite of correct and the more red “Xes” you had on your exam paper, the more likely teacher was going to get red in the face and get your palms, if not behind, just as red.

Overheard frequently in the conversation among the menfolk, as they cool themselves in the evenings sitting on the sidewalk bench, “X” was the surname of a certain woman called Madame.  I wasn’t too sure what in Madame X made the older men speak in hushed tones; but the tenor of the exchange seems to suggest that she was someone to either look up or look out for someday.  It seems her names showed up in the newspapers as often seen with some politician or another.  At any rate, that “x” was something filed mentally to be retrieved sometime in the future when time and opportunity both allow.

On Saturdays and Sundays at the corner barbershop, “x” in those white sheets of paper folded according to their several columns clutched by the bookies sometimes meant another female: a filly that would not be running in the scheduled race.  But whether male or female, a penciled  “x” after the name of the horse on the programa meant that horse was “scratch”.

Clearly, I had enough material against “x” to make nanay proud; but I do not now remember whether that item I wrote ever saw the light of print.  Most likely, it never did and it might have gone of way of others I had submitted to our editor-in-chief Gloria--tall and slim, bespectacled and kayumangi, a constant visitor in my puerile dreams--straight to her waste basket.

In any case, I am now prepared to take back my juvenile feelings against “x” in “Xmas”, albeit nevertheless asking my mother’s pardon for not being steadfast.  A diatribe then against “x” would have been unfair.  It is the most sociable of letters (rivaling only the letter “O”) because, according to Simon Singh’s “The Code Book:The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography” cited in Craig Conley’s One Letter Words, A dictionary”, it “neighbors most of the letter and avoids only 8 of them.”

“X” too is the most versatile one-letter word.  It is, still according to Conley, “the most printed.  From ballots to personal letters to maps to school exams, it seems that X can’t mark enough spots.  And since X represents more verbs than any other one-letter word, its active life is appropriate.”

An even when used in place of “Christ” in “Christmas”, it is appropriate.  “X” is the first letter of the letter word “Χριστος” which is Greek for "Christ."  This usage dates as far back as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle circa 1021 AD. It is said to still be widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ

There is thus nothing aberrant in using “X” for Christ in Christmas.  It is in fact in tune with our current use of initials to stand for the whole name.  It is only in later times, when men lost the reason and judgment fled to brutish beasts, that we forgot what the “x” originally stood for; much like our forgetting in these days of more commerce and less industry, what Christmas itself is all about.

          Nothing wrong about using “X” for “Christ”, 'nay, just going back to the basics, as you had always wanted me to do.