It seems every year the Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays debate comes up. On one polar extreme we have some Christians who feel that any greeting other than “Merry Christmas” is an assault on their religion. The problem with this logic is that it could follow that saying “Merry Christmas” is an attack on every other holiday taking place in late December, such as Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, and probably a few I’m forgetting. If I wish you happiness for any particular holiday I am excluding others, right?
On the other side we have a few irreligious folk who feel that saying “Merry Christmas” is “shoving religion down their throat.” Christmas is originally a Christian holiday, and etymologically breaks down into “Christ” and “mass,” referring to the mass, or celebration, of Jesus Christ. The great irony of this argument is that the preferred term under these circumstances, “Happy Holidays,” etymologically breaks down into “holy” and “day,” and thus is also, at its root, a religious term.
Not to mention, wishing someone good will for any particular reason, whether you acknowledge it or not, is ultimately about one person sharing the good will they feel with another person, and in no way assumes anything about the person to whom the good will is directed. It’s usually considered rude to ask others about their religion in passing, and so it’s impractical to expect people to know what particular holiday any given stranger is celebrating this winter. Perhaps general terms, like “holiday” are preferable, especially for businesses and public offices, but more specific greetings simply reflect the cultural mindset of the greater, and little more. (Not to mention, if Christians really did say “Merry Christmas” to force their religion upon others, it would be a rather paltry and obscure attempt at proselytizing.)
It might also be worth noting that many common terms in English speaking American culture have religious roots. One need not believe in Thor to acknowledge Thursday, or in Frigg to enjoy a weekend kick-off at TGIF’s.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Also in this vein, I ran across this article recently which addresses the “war on Christmas” from a retailers point of view. Check it out.