Christmas DebatesChristmas Features

Great Debate: Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

By Jeff Westover

(Author bias: I’m completely neutral in this debate –honestly. If given the chance, I’d gladly scream ‘Merry Christmas’ at the most ardent anti-Christmas freak out there, especially if I knew it would turn them purple with rage. It is not that I enjoy making people angry but rather that in my own sick, twisted way I enjoy seeing people get angry at the silliest things. But at the same time, I hold no ill will for the phrase “Happy Holidays”. I find it funny that some people do.)

Ebenezer Scrooge once famously said: “If I could work my will every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Perhaps Scrooge was a school calendar coordinator in a previous life.

Or, maybe he was an advertising manager for a major retailer. Or, perhaps, he was a city coordinator charged with hanging “holiday” lights in the town square in December.

Whatever his situation it seems he had much in common with many individuals in modern society who simply do not like the term “Merry Christmas”.

As sure as there is an “x” in Christmas you can bet that someone, somewhere in our modern world is going to get pushed out of shape by hearing the words “Merry Christmas”. To some people, the term “Merry Christmas” can be worse than the f-bomb.

The word merry, as otherwise more politely recorded elsewhere on our festive pages, means “joyous”. (Well…it depends on where you are. If you visit our friends in the UK you’ll no doubt here a lot of “Happy Christmas!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” because the word “merry” also suggests a drunken state, which would not be appropriate in all circumstances).

So to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” means only to wish them a joyous Christmas season.

That’s not the problem.

The problem is the reference to Christ. Some who do not believe in Christ become offended that one would invoke His name in a sentiment of goodwill.

Think of it this way: you say “Have a nice day”, and no one would be offended by that. But if you say “Have a nice day, in Jesus’ name” – and you got trouble. That’s the beef amongst those who decry “Merry Christmas”.

It is a stupid beef.

“Christmas”, as a word, sure enough has sacred leanings. It is a simple contraction of an obviously religious term, “Christ Mass”.

But thousands of years later with plenty of congressional debates behind us we also recognize Christmas as a secular day, observance, term — and sentiment.

After all, we have Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas candy, and Christmas cards. None of these things have anything to do with “Christ Mass”.

Associated with the word Christmas are things like mistletoe, the Grinch, stockings, Santa Claus, wassail, and really, really mediocre Christmas tunes by a Jewish boy named Neil Diamond. (White Christmas, the most popular of all modern holiday tunes was penned by another Jew, Irving Berlin, is also completely secular).

None of these things had anything to do with “Christ Mass” either.

So, in essence, the term “Merry Christmas” means joyous “sacred” Christmas OR joyous “secular” Christmas, interchangeably. How convenient, eh?

In an ironic twist of merry fate many try to placate those who would be offended by Merry Christmas by substituting the apparently safe and politically correct term “Happy Holidays”.

It is only ironic because of the passionate throngs who insist that “Merry Christmas” must be said in order to preserve, protect and defend the right of Christmas to exist (because they think there is a terrible never-ending war on Christmas staffed by armies intent on pulling the plugs on all the lights).

Their arguments are goofier than those who blanch at the words Merry Christmas.

They build websites, sell buttons and crusade on Fox News about how brave folks need to be in expressing their constitutional rights to say Merry Christmas – and to be wished the same when they shop. They boycott any retailer who refuses to say “Merry Christmas” in their ads (unless they have the cheapest price and then never mind).

I work in retail and during Christmas 2008 I was helping a customer load her purchase into her vehicle and upon finishing I said “Happy Holidays to ya!” I was just being friendly and thanking her for her business. She turned cold and thin lipped.

“You can’t say Merry Christmas to me? What’s wrong with you?”

I honestly didn’t think a thing about it when I said “Happy Holidays”. After all, broken down, the word literally means “happy holy days” which would technically make it more of a religious term than “Merry Christmas”.

For a jolly person buying her loved one presents during a season of peace she sure was hostile.

And that, after all is said and done, is the point.

Both terms are universally defined as well wishes – and who could ever be offended by either one?

For goodness sake, if you see on Facebook or other social media this Christmas those snarky graphics that say “Say Merry Christmas to me, Not Happy Holidays” please avoid passing them along. One only showcases ignorance and intolerance when they do so.

Father of 7, Grandfather of 7, husband of 1. Freelance writer, Major League baseball geek, aspiring Family Historian.

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