Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas

Christian ToleranceFor years I’ve thought that there was something very obvious under the complaints of (mostly conservative) Christians when people say “happy holidays” rather than “merry Christmas.” But I never took the time to work it out. Well, I spent some time this morning. And it turns out to be about as awful as I had suspected.

The substitution of “happy holidays” implicitly relegates Christmas to the level of all other seasonal holidays. Christians want to be told that Christmas is more than just their holiday—an expression of their religious belief. They want to be told that Christmas is true—an expression of what God really is and not just their opinion.

A moment’s thought on this issue will show that this is true. But notice how the deconstruction lays bare the absurdity of the request. It is not enough to include Christmas in a greeting, the greeting must single out Christmas because, you know, unlike those other religions, it’s true! Now, I’m as deluded as the next man, but I don’t require that others pander to my delusions.

Another aspect of this is the use of majority status to silence the minority. The argument goes something like this, “Most people in the United States are Christians, so why not just say ‘merry Christmas’?” This would be a strong argument if anyone were avoiding a discussion of the holiday. But “happy holidays” does not exclude Christmas, while “merry Christmas” does exclude others. The truth is that minority groups are, for a number of good reasons, insecure. So if anyone is unhappy it ought to be the Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and so on. With almost 80% of Americans being Christians, what do they have to worry about?

The whole issue is made worse because the very Christians who hate “happy holidays” want to “put the Christ back in Christmas!” This creates a problem for those of us who think that Christmas is a secular holiday having nothing to do with religion. We have no problem with “merry Christmas” because it is just that federal holiday when you are expected to give everyone gifts and cook a lot of food. But if somehow people manage to turn Christmas into a religious holiday, then we will have a problem with “merry Christmas.”

Regardless, I don’t think it matters. Either Christmas is a religious holiday, in which case most people won’t pay it much attention—certainly not clerks at Safeway. Or it is a secular holiday, in which case who cares what we call it? Regardless, it is special pleading for Christians to ask us to think any more of their religion than anyone else’s.


As a practical matter, I no longer use “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas.” I don’t use “merry Christmas” because I think it is exclusive and I don’t want to exclude anyone. And now I don’t use “happy holiday” because I don’t want to piss off some angry Christian looking for a fight on the eve of the celebration of his savior. So now I just say, “Have a good day off!” And isn’t that what we all really want: a good day off?

7 thoughts on “Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas

    • “May you have a pleasant enough Christmas as to be happy, but not so pleasant that it depresses you afterward.” That should be the new standard.

      • Have you met us Americans? We don’t want that kind of complication in our life despite our arguing endlessly on happy holidays or merry Christmas. :)

        • Yeah. I was thinking back to “Says You” last week where they were taking pithy saying and turning them into verbose monstrosities. I was going for something like that.

            • The actual game was that the host read some really obscure statement and the players had to determine the simple phrase it was based on. It was one of the easier segments on the show. If you don’t listen to it, you should. I think it is the sort of thing you and James would enjoy: Says You!

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