December 11 – Merry Techmas!

Today’s factismal: X-mas was used as an abbreviation for Christmas around 1100 AD.

Back in 1021, there wasn’t much to write on (to be fair, there weren’t many people who could write on what there was to write on, but that’s another topic to write one). Papyrus was common in Egypt and many Mediterranean countries, but rare outside of there. Vellum (a prepared animal hide) was used for important works in Europe but was fairly expensive. For most daily commerce, wooden boards and slates were used, along with wax tablets in cooler regions. But in every case, these writing surfaces had one thing in common: space was limited.

As a result, the folks who wrote often used abbreviations. One of the more common ones was the use of Χ (the Greek letter “chi”) as shorthand for the word “Christ”. For example, monks writing an account of the exploits of St. Christian of Clogher would refer to him as “Χn d Clogher”. Similarly, Christian of Oliva would be written as Χn D Oliva”. And Jesus Christ was frequently noted by the combination of two Greek letters (chi and rho; first used by Emperor Constantine as a symbol for his troops), creating the “labarum” ☧. So ever since early Christianity, Christ’s name was abbreviated and Christmas has been written as Χmas.

Of course, I only know this because those monks passed their knowledge down using the best technology of the day. And they also passed along the knowledge of how to use that technology. Today we are more dependent on technology than ever. And we are fortunate in that we don’t need monks to pass the information along – we need geeks. And that brings us to the citizen science opportunity for today: Free Geek. This is a group of geeks dedicated to spreading technology by making it affordable. They take old electronic equipment (computers, cell phones, etc.),and train disadvantaged youth to refurbish it; the equipment is then sold or distributed to at-risk communities. If this sounds like something that you’d like to get involved in, then set your browser to:

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