“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? When (and If) to Say Which One

I am a Christian. Therefore, with all due respect to whomever I date or marry someday (if God calls me to do that), Jesus will remain my most important love in my life.

And yet, I believe that that saying “Merry Christmas” to someone is not always the right thing to say during this season of the year.

My previous sentence is controversial to many Christians, some of whom are good friends of mine. From my understanding, much of the controversy involves the desire to “keep Christ in Christmas.” There is a fear that, by replacing “Christmas Greetings” with “Holiday Greetings,” our society will forget the reason for the season: Jesus Christ.

And you know what? If you’re talking with someone else who you know is Christian, or someone else who you know celebrates the holiday (whether the person is Christian or not), “Merry Christmas” is the appropriate thing to say. So for me, a Christian, I am perfectly content with the “Merry Christmas” greeting, though I wouldn’t get upset if someone said “Happy Holidays.”

Speaking of “Happy Holidays,” that type of greeting is most appropriate to say when you literally have no clue what holiday or holidays someone is celebrating. Through the “Happy Holidays” greeting, you are saying something which covers whatever holiday someone else is celebrating, whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, some combination of the four, or none of the four.[1] Furthermore, by saying “Happy Holidays,” you avoid giving a holiday greeting that offends someone’s religious sensibilities (for example, saying “Merry Christmas” to an observant Jew who does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah is unwise). In the end, as controversial as the “Happy Holidays” greeting may be among some Christians, that greeting is actually meant to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone shares my beliefs.

In some instances, neither “Merry Christmas” nor “Happy Holidays” is an appropriate greeting to say to someone. This may come as a shock to people who are passionate about the debate between the two greetings. If you’re talking with someone who you know is Jewish, “Happy Hanukkah” is the most appropriate greeting. While I know some Jews who celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday, I also know other others whose religious sensibilities would be offended by someone saying “Merry Christmas.” Therefore, “Happy Hanukkah” is the proper greeting for a Jewish friend or family member.

In all instances, when we give holiday greetings to people, we should give the type of greeting which corresponds to the religious sensibilities of said person, even if you don’t share all of the person’s values. And, if you don’t know the religious sensibilities of the person you’re talking to, “Happy Holidays” is probably the best catch-all greeting to give at this time of year.

[1] In instances when someone doesn’t celebrate any of the holidays, you can still give a “Happy Holidays” greeting. From my family’s experiences, people who don’t celebrate any of the major holidays still respond respectfully to “Happy Holidays.”

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