1932: The True Meaning of Christmas

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The True Meaning of Christmas
They all made fun of Autometalogolex, but someday there will be a problem with Christmas that can only be solved if Santa somehow gets a serious headache, and then they'll see.
Title text: They all made fun of Autometalogolex, but someday there will be a problem with Christmas that can only be solved if Santa somehow gets a serious headache, and then they'll see.


This is the first of two Christmas comics in a row celebrating Christmas of 2017. The next being 1933: Santa Facts, released upon Christmas Day itself. This was the first time that a year with two Christmas comics had one released as early as December 22nd. Otherwise, it has always been in the range from December 23-26th. (As of 2023 it is still the only such comic released on the 22nd. In 2023 this was also the last release day before Christmas, but the earlier date was not specifically Christmas-themed that year.)

It is making fun of the common trope in popular media that the true meaning of Christmas is about family, friends, and sharing the Christmas Spirit. It subverts the trope by suggesting that once the stories of the "True Meaning of Christmas" become sufficiently common, the real true meaning becomes to spread those stories. Thus the search for the "True Meaning of Christmas" is itself the meaning of Christmas, in a sort of "the journey is the reward" discovery.

In the last panel and title text, "Autometalogolex" is a neologism of Randall's, which can be broken down to its various prefixes and the root:

"Auto-" - Greek meaning "self."
"Meta-" - Greek meaning "after," "beyond," or "in reference to."
"Logo-" - Greek meaning "word" or "speech."
"Lex" - "lexis" is another Greek word meaning "word"; but in this case it is more likely to be a shortening of "lexicon" (another word for dictionary), or perhaps a reference to the process of "lexing" (lexical analysis), part of the process of computer analysis of text.

Thus, "Autometalogolex" would literally mean "A word that refers to itself in the dictionary," or more precisely "the act of looking up the definition of autometalogolex", which leads to a recursion, as all meaning of Christmas stories do. Recursion and self-reference is a recurring theme in xkcd.

The term Autometalogolex might also refer to autological words, words that refer to a property of the word itself. ("noun" is a noun, "pentasyllabic" is pentasyllabic [has 5 syllables]). "Autometalogolex" is a 'meta' version of the looking up (lex) of an autological word.

Cueball finally states that Autometalogolex is his least favorite of Santa Claus's reindeer. This is not among the commonly quoted list of names: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.[citation needed] As the title text reveals this ninth reindeer could be a reference to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who was not accepted by the others until Santa had problems and asked it to lead the other reindeer pulling the sleigh. The title text may also imply the only effective outcome of Autometalogolex (or the newly defined Christmas) is giving headaches, as with many self-referential concepts. As headaches generally are bad,[citation needed] Autometalogolex is not accepted, but - as in a typical Christmas story, here driven into the absurd realm - Santa needed a headache, and Autometalogolex was there to save the day.


[Cueball is talking to a guy wearing a Santa hat.]
Cueball: You’re looking festive.
Santa Hat: I love Christmas!
Cueball: Really? Doesn’t seem like your kind of thing.
Santa Hat: It’s our most meta holiday!
[Same setting.]
Cueball: How so?
Santa Hat: All our Christmas stories now are about discovering the “true meaning of Christmas.”
[The same setting in a frame-less panel where Santa Hat shrugs.]
Cueball: Huh, yeah. And then sharing it with others.
Santa Hat: At some point, that quest itself became the true meaning.
[Same setting with Santa Hat holding a hand to his chin.]
Cueball: Like a word whose definition is “the act of looking up the definition of this word.”
Santa Hat: “Autometalogolex”?
Cueball: My least favorite of Santa’s reindeer.


  • At the time this comic was released the expression Autometalogolex did not exist. But only a few hours later at Urban Dictionary this phrase got its first entries: Urbandictionary Autometalogolex.
  • It appears that HopJacker Brewer makes a beer named Autometalogolex, presumably named after this comic. There are multiple references to it online, though it doesn't appear on HopJacker's own webpage, so it is possible that this beer doesn't exist and folks are just trolling beer drinkers to get them to autometalogolex.
  • Some believe that the Santa Hat character is actually Black Hat, owing to the Santa hat in question being black (the character's behavior, and Cueball's comment that Santa Hat doesn't seem to be the type to enjoy Christmas match Black Hat's personality perfectly). However, the Santa hat may actually be meant to be red but rendered as black because the comic is in black-and-white (although it's worth nothing that in 361: Christmas Back Home and 838: Incident, Christmas clothing was shown as red, not black). Santa Hat's identity is therefore unclear. But that was of course Comics with color which is not the norm in xkcd, which is why there is a category for those. In black and white comics it makes no sense to discuss that a black Santa hat must be black.
    • But already in the next comic where the "real" Santa is described his red Santa Hat is drawn black, thus proving that it is not a black hat because it is black in the comic.
    • Since there are many comics with Multiple Cueballs, it could just as well be Cueball with a Santa Hat and another guy asking him about it.
    • As there is no way to decide, then the best description of this comic is that Cueball is talking to a guy with a Santa Hat.

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Is that guy with a black "santa cap" Black Hat? 13:38, 22 December 2017 (UTC)

Since most comics a not in color we safely can assume this Santa Hat as red. And if it should be Black Hat we would be able to identify him. --Dgbrt (talk) 14:01, 22 December 2017 (UTC)
I definitely think it's supposed to be Black Hat Guy (Cueball's comment in the first panel fits). However, as we're uncertain, how about we use "Santa Hat" as in the below comments? -- Peregrine (talk) 15:13, 22 December 2017 (UTC)
based on speech patterns and topic choice, "Santa Hat" might be Beret Guy. 19:18, 23 December 2017 (UTC)
Like my former comment: If it should be Beret Guy we would be able to identify him. --Dgbrt (talk) 19:21, 23 December 2017 (UTC)
I think the santa hat may actually be black, because in 361: Christmas Back Home and 838: Incident red christmas clothing was represented as red. Those were probably only times we have seen Christmas clothing in xkcd. 10:53, 25 December 2017 (UTC)
For me, Santa Hat is not mean enough to be Black Hat, and not QUITE goofy enough to be Beret Guy. I vote Just Some Guy In A Santa Hat, or our regular Cueball wearing a Santa hat, or Cueball's brother although I guess then Cueball would know his feelings about Christmas. I also don't accept the argument that the meaning of Christmas is "the meaning of Christmas", and I think Autometalogolex should be a Transformer, probably the good Transformers' snooty librarian / archivist. He or she can be a reindeer when transformed, sure. Robert Carnegie [email protected] 10:43, 26 December 2017 (UTC)

Cant find a definition or recognition of the word autometalogolex. My google-fu is weak. ̶o̶r̶ ̶m̶a̶y̶b̶e̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶d̶e̶ ̶i̶t̶ ̶u̶p̶ DPS2004'); DROP TABLE users;-- (talk) 14:11, 22 December 2017 (UTC)

"autometalogolex" is an invention by Santa Hat and consists of three prefixes "auto-", "meta-", and "logo-" and the word "lex" for law or statute. I'm still thinking about the deeper meaning.--Dgbrt (talk) 14:17, 22 December 2017 (UTC)
Why dont we make it a word? UrbanDictionary is blocked where i am. DPS2004'); DROP TABLE users;-- (talk) 14:25, 22 December 2017 (UTC)
I added the meanings of each of the prefixes, as well as a more likely analysis of the root, though "auto-" is still up in the air. It can mean "self" as in the classic meaning, but it can also mean done without interaction (as in "automatic") which sounds closer to the usage present in the comic. I'll leave it to others to refine. We still need to better interpret the fullness of the title text. Respectfully, -- a guy stuck in a government cube all day. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
"auto-" means self. The roots of automatic mean "self-acting" or "self-thinking". Blaisepascal (talk) 15:26, 22 December 2017 (UTC)
I'd say that Autometalogolex is the word that Santa Hat is making up for the definition that cueball gives "The act of looking up the definition of this word.", so my interpretation is that the definition of Autometalogolex is "The act of looking up the definition of autometalogolex" (so you are all autometalogolexing at this moment) -- 15:06, 22 December 2017 (UTC)volivav
So what is the word for the act of making up a word for this definition? 00:41, 23 December 2017 (UTC)
WDYT about my reference to autological words? [1] DarlingGeert

Doesn't the title text reference Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? 17:25, 22 December 2017 (UTC)

Thanks, I thought about this too. Please check my additions. --Dgbrt (talk) 18:20, 22 December 2017 (UTC)

Tautometalogolex should be "the act of looking up the definition of autometalogolex". Ralfoide (talk) 18:23, 22 December 2017 (UTC)

This phrase hits the nail on the head. And that's a recursive never ending action. And this recursion happens to all those "meaning of Christmas stories." --Dgbrt (talk) 00:13, 23 December 2017 (UTC)

The current explanation speaks of the title text like it might mean that a reindeer named "Autometalogolex" might cause headaches. NO! Usually such strange clearly wrong interpretations come from looking at it in a weird way (a way I only discover by reading it here), but this time it's simply not paying attention! Why would anybody be looking to GIVE Santa a headache??!?!? It's literally saying the opposite, who will they call when Santa ALREADY HAS a headache. Yes, the title text is referencing Rudolph, who is depicted as an outsider until he becomes useful, his glowing nose helping guide the way. This is the same. It's making fun of the fact that "autometalogolex" sounds like a medicine, so it's saying that a reindeer with this name would CURE Santa's headache, saving the day like Rudolph, helping out like Rudolph. Everyone will look for Autometalogolex at this time. Don't always make things so complicated.

And I don't think Santa Hat is Black Hat. That's what I figured at first, since hat colour, but he isn't sporting the usual anti-social mess-with-people attitude. But the comments sound like he usually wears a different hat, so... Wihout further evidence I think we have to take him as a separate character. Maybe the blackness is supposed to paint him as a Christmas pessimist? NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:37, 29 December 2017 (UTC)

I've updated the incomplete reason to Title text explanation: Why did Santa need a headache? Sounds absurd. IMO the last paragraph is nonsense. "Autometalogolex" is a reference to Rudolph and your phrase the fact that "autometalogolex" sounds like a medicine is much more reasonable. --Dgbrt (talk) 12:37, 29 December 2017 (UTC)

On Wiktionary, the administrators have proactively protected the title autometalogolex so that it cannot be created. - Mike Rosoft (talk) 17:37, 29 December 2017 (UTC)

  • Also, who else tried to parse the word as "auto-metalo-golex"? - Mike Rosoft (talk) 17:55, 29 December 2017 (UTC)