Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! These two wishes of good cheer are echoed on busy streets and in homes starting almost as soon as the Thanksgiving meal has been wrapped into leftover containers. Both are meant in the same spirit, stating a wish that the recipient has a happy holiday season. There is a lot of controversy over the difference between Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, however. For some people, they mean completely different things.
The phrases Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays do have some differences. Merry Christmas refers, specifically, to the Christmas holiday, celebrated December 25th. It is a traditionally Christian sentiment. Happy Holidays is more general. It encompasses all holidays, religious in nature or not, that are celebrated during the winter holiday season. This phrase is considered more politically correct, as it does not leave anyone’s religion or beliefs out.
Christmas, however, is no longer just considered to be just a Christian holiday by everyone. Christmas trees are enjoyed by many families, not just those who actively attend church. Stockings, presents, and Santa are concepts that everyone can enjoy. The traditional Christian Christmas, celebrated as the recognized day of Jesus’ birth, has been altered by many to a day filled with family, friends, food, and gifts.
The saying Happy Holidays includes all religions and cultures in its sentiment. It spreads good tidings to those who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other holiday. Happy Holidays also includes New Year's Day. This sentiment works both for people who celebrate for religious purposes and those who just enjoy the season for its own sake.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays used to be easily interchangeable. Everyone seemed to understand that the spirit of the wish was more important than the exact words said. Now, however, these phrases have become casualties in the battle of political correctness. Merry Christmas is felt to leave out too many people. Because of this, it has been abandoned by a lot of official institutions, such as governments and schools in the United States.
On the other side of this are the churches who feel that taking the wording of Christmas, and therefore Christ, out of the holidays is wrong. America was built on the idea of religious tolerance. According to church groups, this should not mean only for religions other than Christianity. By being asked to set aside the religious aspects of the holiday season, they feel that their own religion is not being tolerated.
This disagreement over the use of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays leaves some people worried about offending someone over their choice of greetings. Both wishes are meant to spread good cheer, little more. They are not means of converting non-Christians, or denouncing Christ as the reason behind Christmas. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays are simple greetings between friends, acquaintances, and strangers during a season where almost everyone is just a little merrier.