For many years, there has been some sort of controversy when December rolls around. One particular area that seems to get a lot of focus is the use of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” as greetings.
Some people don’t want to offend those who don’t celebrate Christmas, while others feel that Happy Holidays is too politically correct. Take one side over the other, and you’re either a stuck-up Christian or gutless wimp. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where retail workers have been fired for using one over another. Nobody ever seems to want to take the fabled middle ground and try to see things from both sides.
Well, I’m taking that stance. And here’s an honest question for everyone, regardless of their opinion: Is this really something to get riled up about?
Let me preface my argument before I get ahead of myself. I am Catholic. I go to St. Mary’s Parish in Waltham, and I’ve served as a lector there for the past ten years. So, yes, I do celebrate Christmas, both as a day to spend quality time with friends and family and as a religious holiday.
Having said that, the term “Happy Holidays” is not offensive. Nor is it something to throw a fit over.
Why bring this up? To make a long story short, there was a priest at my church who spoke during an intersession about this subject a year ago. While I can’t remember his exact words, it was something along the lines of wishing people “Merry Christmas” regardless of their creed.
Now, okay, as a Catholic, it’s important to keep the spirit of Christmas with you this time of year. I get that. At the same time, it’s just as important to remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas, assuming they celebrate something in the first place.
It’s not just the Christmas Season, or the Hanukkah Season, or even the Festivus Season. (No offense to any “Seinfeld” fans out there.) There’s more to December than just one holiday, let alone Christmas. That’s the whole point of calling it the “Holiday” Season.
Saying “Merry Christmas” is fine if you’re among family and friends who celebrate the holiday with you, or among people you don’t necessarily know in, say, a church gathering. “Happy Holidays” isn’t necessarily bad, but “Merry Christmas” is definitely the better greeting of the two, if only because you know that people celebrate Christmas. But what if you were out and about, wished a random passerby Merry Christmas, and it turns out they celebrated Hanukkah instead? Seems a bit awkward, don’t you think?
That’s another thing most people don’t seem to consider when it comes to this argument. Unless there’s an obvious tell, like a yarmulke on a Jewish person, you don’t know what a random person celebrates this time of year. In those moments, sometimes it’s best to not assume and just say “Happy Holidays” to that person. Using that greeting in this instance is no great sin.
I’m sure I know what some of you might be thinking, that I’m being too politically correct. Maybe, but I don’t think that’s the case. The way I see it, this isn’t a matter of being politically correct, but a matter of being respectful towards others. I’ve had people who don’t even celebrate Christmas wish me a “Merry Christmas,” and in return, I’d wish them the best for their holiday. Heck, there was an occasion where I gave a Jewish community college professor I had one year a Hanukkah card as opposed to a Christmas card. Why? Because it was the respectful thing to do.
All right, so this might’ve been a little too preachy, and maybe I’ve painted a bull’s-eye on my back. But here’s the overall point. There’s nothing wrong with saying “Merry Christmas,” nor is there anything wrong with saying “Happy Holidays.” This time of year, there’s room for both. “Merry Christmas” is fine with family, friends and religious community members, and “Happy Holidays” is fine for random passersby. Neither greeting is wrong per se; you just need to be mindful of what people may celebrate. It’s a matter of basic respect, nothing more to it.
I’m in no way telling you what you should say, but instead offering an alternative point of view to consider for the future and beyond. Honestly, as long as you at least listened to all that I had to say on this matter, that’s one small victory in my book.
In any event, here’s wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all from your friendly neighborhood Connector contributor.
This article was printed in part in the November 24, 2015 issue of The Connector.