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The phrase has a certain je ne sais quoi, in American English. I don’t know for sure what the British or Australians or New Zealanders or even the Canadians say. Probably the same, but they may put some slight variation on, such as Happy Christmas! Or Jolly Yule!
Currently some of us are fighting what appears to be a last ditch effort to save and preserve our traditional “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” greeting from those who, for political correctitude, would have us change to a more generic, inclusionary saying like “Happy Holidays.” Happy Holidays, they say, encompasses all three major western faiths celebrating spiritually important days or periods of days, generally in or around December. It would also include Kwanzaa, thereby offending no one and respecting everyone, not counting Buddhists or Shintoists or Animists or Atheists or an arkload of others one cares to mention.
And you know what? I’m OK with “Happy Holidays!” It’s what I say more often than not anyway. I don’t particularly say it to avoid offending my non-Christian friends or acquaintances. It just seems to convey more than the specific of Christmas and recognizes that the people I greet often are people I might not see until after New Year’s.
“Have a nice holiday,” I say fairly often too. But then I say that to people setting off for a Labor Day picnic as likely as I say it to someone heading over the hills and through the woods to grandmother’s house for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I always forget which holiday that particular song celebrates.
I can see government buildings and other publicly owned entities genericizing the holiday greeting when they put up a sign or banner over the door at this time of year. If I were Muslim or Jewish, I might rather see “Happy Holidays” flying above my local post office instead of Merry Christmas — which of course I would wish for all my Christian friends but not necessarily at the expense of me, if I were a non-Christian taxpayer.
I grew up Christian, church-goin’ altar-boyin’ and Merry Christmasin’ with the best of ’em, so I’m very familiar and comfortable with the greeting. I use it in my family, as do all the rest of the family, because frankly it is Christmas. We don’t say it on Halloween or Easter or April Fool’s of course. That would be silly. I can’t imagine our family ever opting for “Happy Holidays,” when it is, in fact, Christmas. We don’t say it on Dec. 8 either. We say it on Christmas Eve or Day and we say it if we aren’t going to be seeing each other on those days, as in “Have a Merry Christmas” next week or day after tomorrow, whichever is appropriate.
We don’t say Happy Hanukah to each other either, or Happy Kwanzaa for that matter — even when it is those days.
Next week we won’t be doing our traditional little family slosh-up and clambake for various reasons including and especially because we’ll be doing it at the kids’ house. We’ll be Merry Christmasing each other all evening, or at least at the beginning and the end of the affair. And we’ll do it again the next day at the in-laws’ Christmas Day bash.
I don’t think anyone in my extended family will be put off by “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays;” in fact I’m positive they won’t. All of which is neither here nor there, as we won’t be congregating in a public or government building, and thus there is little or no chance of actually offending anyone with an ill-chosen holiday greeting.
I hope that’s the case at your house too — whatever you’re celebrating, or not celebrating, have a great time. And Happy Holidays!
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.