Happy Holidays

To some, the term “Happy Holidays” is an inclusive term that encompasses multiple holidays celebrated annually in December, as well as New Year’s; to others, it is an exclusionary term that removes a necessary emphasis on or acknowledgement of Christmas.

People across the political spectrum debate whether it’s better to wish someone “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas" (while some are fine with either term). There is disagreement about whether "Happy Holidays" honors diversity by including other holidays, or subverts diversity by erasing one specific culture and religion.

Some say the term “Happy Holidays” acknowledges diversity and avoids the potential for offense if the receiver of the message is part of a group that celebrates other holidays that take place in December, such as Hanukkah (a Jewish holiday), Kwanzaa (an African-American celebration), or Winter Solstice (a Pagan celebration). They argue the term should be preferred because it is not only more inclusive of other belief systems, but also of New Year’s Day, celebrated on January 1. Because seasonal greetings are commonly said to people whose beliefs and cultures we don’t personally know — such as co-workers, retail workers, people we pass on the street, etc. — we can be more sensitive to potential cultural and religious differences if we use the term “Happy Holidays.”

Others say the term “Happy Holidays” is exclusionary and anti-diversity because it detracts from or minimizes the cultural and religious significance and importance of Christmas, a Christian holiday celebrated among billions of people around the world (religiously by Christians as well as culturally by non-Christians). They argue that if we truly cared about diversity, we would acknowledge, not erase, Christmas in our seasonal greetings. “Merry Christmas” should be said, particularly in the United States, because the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, and Americans have been subverted into feeling guilty or wrong for acknowledging their cultural history and religion by saying “Merry Christmas.” Just as one would not go to Iran or Saudi Arabia and tell people they can’t say “Happy Eid” because it might offend non-Muslims, it is wrong to tell Americans or others in the Western world that “Merry Christmas” is offensive.

They also argue that exclusion of any one culture from openly expressing veneration of its holy days — whether it is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other — can actually result in a loss of cultural cohesion and demoralization among members of that group because it requires them to hide their culture and faith. "Happy Holidays" fails to respect a group’s right to preserve their traditions and way of life.

In short, the term “Happy Holidays” has become polarizing. Some people do not like the term due to its restriction of personal religious expression or oppose the erasure of the significance of Christmas, which they believe should be emphasized and acknowledged due to its cultural, religious and historical impact. Others prefer the term because they either don't believe in the importance of Christmas, think it is wrong to assume the receiver celebrates Christmas and hope to avoid offending those who don’t, or wish to show their support for a broad diversity of beliefs. Others argue that neither “Happy Holidays” nor “Merry Christmas” is useful because each is now taken as a “badge of group identification” rather than as a cordial greeting.

Contributors: 

Julie Mastrine, John Gable, Henry Brechter

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