The debate over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is a relatively new one, but it is a hot topic, one that is revived annually around this time every year. It’s a debate that goes beyond just etiquette and, instead, speaks to people’s deep-seated beliefs. Words do matter, but why would a school, or a store, or people choosing to substitute “happy holidays” for “Merry Christmas” cause so much resentment?
There is the idea that when you use the term “Merry Christmas” you are, of course, endorsing the Christian religion, and thereby may be excluding those who don’t worship the same. By that same token, if you use the term “Happy Holidays,” some may believe that you are stripping the season of what it actually means.
But the debate is actually pretty sad, and although words do matter, what matters even more is the spirit behind the words you choose.
Every year, certain memes begin to crop up on social media sites, expressing resentment over the more “politically correct” terms like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” Some claim that saying “Happy Holidays” means a person is less patriotic, others poke fun at the “political correctness” of the more secular term.
In fact, there are many memes that promote saying “Merry Christmas” not because of a need to keep a person’s religious joy at the forefront of the season, or a desire to preserve traditions, but to say it instead with defiance, to provoke, to intentionally exclude those who may not actually celebrate Christmas (even though Pew Research indicates that, despite a large plurality of religions, 93% of Americans do, in fact, celebrate the season).
But it seems as though if a person is saying “Merry Christmas” in order to score a point, or to exclude someone who may not actually celebrate the religious sentiments behind the actual holiday, then that person is missing the entire point of the season. Christmas is supposed to be a joyful season of giving and sharing, not a time of year to use a religious term in order to simply intentionally provoke someone.
So when should you tell someone “Merry Christmas” rather than using a more secular term?
Whenever the joy of the season moves you to say it, that’s when. When you want to share your excitement over the holiday with someone, whether a store clerk or your grandma. When the reason you want to tell someone “Merry Christmas” is because you want to include them in your happiness rather than exclude them from a holiday they may or may not celebrate. Say it, but even as you say it, realize that there are other holidays that share the same month — Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice — holidays that have equally deep meanings for others who celebrate them, but say it because you want to share yours in the spirit that it is intended.
Likewise, we should take people’s greetings — whether religious or secular, Christian or not — in the same spirit, and assume that the person is wishing us well from a true place.
So, happy holidays! Hanukkah Sameach. Habari Gani, if you are celebrating Kwanzaa. Warm wishes on the Winter Solstice and, of course, merry Christmas. May your day be merry and bright, no matter what — or if — you celebrate this season.
And if you want to get into the mood for the season, check out this amazing video of an entire neighborhood that synced their Christmas lights together here.
[Images via someecards.com and playbuzz.com]