A ‘merry’ debate

I grew up in a family that unquestioningly threw around the phrase, “Merry Christmas” every time
December rolled around.

Even though I’m not Christian, the phrase never really bothered me. After all, the phrase has been distilled into something almost entirely devoid of religious affiliation — almost being the operating word.

Regardless of whether you mean to or not, saying “Merry Christmas” is making an assumption about the religious identity of the person you’re talking to.

Specifically, the assumption is that the recipient of your greeting, like you, is celebrating Christmas.

Sometimes that’s a good assumption — like when you know the person with whom you are speaking well enough to know their holiday of choice.

Other times, you don’t know the person well enough and it’s a terrible assumption to make that could have any number of social repercussions.

By all means, if you know the person celebrates Christmas, wish them a “Merry Christmas.” But certainly there are better options when you’re not sure.

“Merry Christmas” communicates a very specific type of well wishing and doesn’t explicitly include those
of other faiths.

The United States has substantial of religious diversity and we should respect that by using the more inclusive “Happy Holidays.”

It seems like a small semantic difference, because both phrases are essentially communicating the same type of seasonal well wishing.

Albeit small, this semantic difference is a highly contested one. People get really worked up over it.

What baffles me the most is how some Christians have spun the use of “Happy Holidays” as an attack on them.

Some Christians see “Happy Holidays” as an attack on their faith, when in reality, it’s not so much about Christians celebrating the birth of their god. It’s the assumption that everyone else does, too.

The western world already revolves around Christian holidays. We see this tangibly in our calendar. If you are Christian, you can count on having time off from work to celebrate those holidays.

A majority of folks in the United States benefit from this, but the same is not true for those of other faiths, some of whom work straight through their time of worship.

This is a smaller manifestation of a larger social construct, called Christian privilege. Collectively we perpetuate Christian privilege every time we unknowingly wish those around us “Merry Christmas,” when we have no idea if they are actually Christian, themselves.

Even now, I don’t particularly like it when folks wish me a “Merry Christmas,” because of what it presupposes about me. But I don’t make an issue out of it. I just smile and thank them for the good wishes. I consider that they are wishing me well in terms they are familiar with and take it entirely in that way.

However, out of respect for everyone and not running with the assumption, as many folks do, that everyone I come across is Christian, “Happy Holidays” will be my greeting of choice this holiday season.