Merry Holidays, Happy Christmas!

Do you prefer to say Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays? It seems that every year people get all het up about other people saying Happy Holidays, and spread stories of doubtful veracity about people not being allowed to say Merry Christmas to avoid offending non-Christians, all part of the grand “War on Christmas.” Which seems to be largely in people’s heads, as most examples of it tend to be exaggerated or simply not true. At worst, most cases cited as part of the “War on Christmas” seem to simply involve acknowledging Christmas alongside other ways to celebrate this time of year, like the infamous Winterval festival in Birmingham (England) in 1997. It became known as a byword for the “War on Christmas,” even though it actually involved celebrating Christmas, Diwali, and secular events like New Year’s Eve (the front cover of the brochure featured the word Christmas six times and a picture of a Christmas Tree, and the word Christmas featured on every page).

I can understand why devout Christians would be protective of the word Christmas, though I think any realist has to acknowledge that while anyone is free to celebrate the festival as a Christian feast, it’s become a bigger thing than a solely religious celebration. I do find the arguments about Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays fascinating as an outsider though, as here in Ireland, and I suspect much of the English-speaking world outside the United States, it’s simply not an issue. I think we don’t have that level of religious devotion that would lead people to so fervently want to keep the holiday Christian. But more importantly, no-one says Happy Holidays here because we only have one holiday at this time of year. Though the phrase Happy Holidays is now associated mainly with Christmas, it originally referred to the period including and between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And as we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here (I try to just generally be grateful every day), the phrase has never taken off.

Just as celebrations might start off as religious (though Christmas is far from the first midwinter feast) and become more secular, so too does the language we use to refer to those celebrations. Though Merry Christmas might have Christ right in the middle there, it’s for a long time now mostly been used to wish people happiness at a time of year that’s religious for some, and secular for others. And if people are wishing each other happiness, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian, or atheist, isn’t that the important thing, and not the reason why they’re wishing each other happiness?

So regardless of whether you’re celebrating a Christian or secular Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or not celebrating anything at all, have a great time, and Merry Christmas!


15 thoughts on “Merry Holidays, Happy Christmas!

  1. The real celebration is the solstice, return of light. That is a reason for joy, discovered thousands of years ago by our ancestors. But — that takes a bit of explaining. I stick to ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’. Merry Christmas is making a comeback in the USA 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it makes a sense that we’d celebrate an event like the solstice, and it’s the perfect time for a festival, right in the middle of winter, making it more bearable! Christmas was just tacked to the old pagan festivals really.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas religiously; but I take no issue with saying Happy Holidays. Especially since so don’t always know if a person will be celebrating Christmas or not. I do know someone, who celebrates a secular Christmas, who gets offended if someone says anything but “Happy Holidays.” I wished a Jewish friend a Happy Hanukkah, and she got oddly miffed about it. My friend and I chose to ignore her.

    Liked by 1 person

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