H2H: Is it Appropriate to Say Merry Christmas?

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Emma Tanner

1. Stick to Happy Holidays

By Shaelyn Barber

The semester is wrapping up and finals are upon us. In just under two weeks, we’ll be free for the winter break. Skiing and snowboarding, hot chocolate, books by the fire, time with family and friends, good food and holiday spirits await. I’m sure I’m not alone in my excitement. There’s finally a light at the end of this long tunnel of a semester and I can’t wait for good times, cozy fires and Christmas lights.

Along with that excitement comes a little bit of caution. Amid all the holiday greetings, Merry Christmases, Santa songs and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, there’s a significant portion of the population that is forgotten, erased and silenced. We live in a nation that places a huge emphasis on Christianity and Christian religions, and we often forget that there are people who don’t celebrate Christmas. The United States is a place of supposed religious freedom, but the culture and government often restrict that right. There are a plethora of different holidays celebrated throughout December, but we typically only hear about one in particular. Yule, Hannukah, Bodhi Day and Pancha Gapati are just a few more, but many people don’t know what they are or even recognize their existence.

The holidays can make people feel excluded, saddened or misunderstood because of the lack of representation and misunderstanding of their religions. This ignorance is everywhere from friends, family, neighbors, stores, radios and the government.

Without even knowing it, you could be making someone feel uncomfortable or excluded by overzealousness when this Christmas holiday comes into town. The littlest of things can make the biggest difference. Thus, I have a challenge for you. One of the easiest things to do is simply change your everyday language. During this holiday season, most people who celebrate Christmas will greet others with the phrase Merry Christmas. Instead of that typical holiday greeting, I encourage you to say Happy Holidays. It may seem small and insignificant, but the wording acknowledges that not everyone is Christian or celebrates Christian holidays. It can help make those who are parts of other religions feel more included during this time of year.

A lot of people argue that it’s important to them to be able to wish people a Merry Christmas. Maybe you’re very faithful to your religion, or maybe Christmas is something that makes you feel joyful and excited; however, I would argue that this is even more of a reason to wish others happy holidays. A Biblical demand of Christianity is to love your neighbors, so when your neighbors follow a different faith, you should love them and give them your respect, despite it being unfamiliar to you.

The most important thing is educating yourself and being open to differences in beliefs and practices. Religion is extremely important in communities and the world, and it influences people across the globe. Given the passion of many for their own faithfulness to Christianity, we should try to step into others’ shoes and realize that people experience these same feelings for their own religions. Research other religions and holidays so that you might understand other people and their faiths better.

In this time there are dozens of holidays to celebrate and practice in your own way, but don’t forget that your way is not the only one. Wish your neighbors, acquaintances and loved ones a Happy Holidays this year.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

2. Stop Politicizing Holidays

By Nicholas Coleman

Once again, the Christmas season has arrived and with it arrives the insatiable American desire to politicize every holiday. Should Columbus Day be renamed? Does St. Patrick’s Day alienate any individuals of an Irish descent? Will expressing the saying “Merry Christmas” result in eternal damnation? These questions are among the many feuds that individuals actively encourage, thereby missing the intent of a national holiday. Rather than focusing on the differences between members of society, striving for a middle ground is a worthy initiative.

Those interested in politics will distinctly remember President Donald Trump reigniting the “war on Christmas,” promising a crowd in Wisconsin that he would bring back the forsaken phrase. Months later, when speaking to another audience in Washington, D.C., Trump argued that political correctness has altered the holiday season. “We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. [Individuals] don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct,” Trump said during the conference.

Of course, the concept of an outright war on Christmas is particularly misguided; rather, the issue is two-fold. First, Americans have largely lost their appreciation for the inclusivity which is at the center of the discussion. While saying Happy Holidays might include all individuals regardless of religion, it seems to almost shame the majority of Americans for participating in the Christmas celebration. Chastising those who earnestly express Merry Christmas — instead of simply informing them of a cultural difference — is quite ludicrous and certainly an extension of unwarranted political correctness. 

Subsequently, there is an obvious affront to the religious nature of America that few enjoy addressing. Those with liberal beliefs tend to believe in a thoroughly secular society which neutralizes all language. Perhaps that is why saying Merry Christmas has created such a stir in the last several years — the phrase is a reminder of the religious aspect of America. Dennis Prager, a Jewish conservative speaker, once wrote, “Here’s a safe prediction: the ACLU and other secular activists on the Left will eventually move to have Christmas removed as a national holiday.” Even if that does not occur, how does one delineate between which side to choose?

Simple: say Merry Christmas if you recognize the holiday, but practice some good ol’ fashioned empathy during the season of merriment.

The war on Christmas is a tiresome feud that politicizes an otherwise joyful period of time. Yes, there is a host of other holidays being celebrated during December. And no, not every American recognizes the Christian nature of Christmas. Nonetheless, it is ludicrous to shame those who do celebrate Christmas with an equivalent obligation to be mindful of others’ beliefs. Correcting slight miscommunications with some patience will alleviate a tremendous amount of angst throughout the ensuing season.

Christmas is celebrated by over 90 percent of those residing in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. While many see Christmas as a day for holy celebration, it is ultimately an established American holiday. Denying the use of the phrase Merry Christmas loses sight of the jubilant spirit of the season, which borders on mean-spiritedness. Saying Happy Holidays will not make you an altruistic individual; instead, simply recognizing the differences amongst individuals will go a long way towards healing an already divided nation.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

Shaelyn is a fourth year at the University of Utah studying Political Science and Journalism in the hopes that someday she can be a travel writer. She is especially passionate about social justice, LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights, and mental health awareness. In her (very rare) free time she loves to hike, paint, and read.

40 COMMENTS

  1. Wishing someone “Merry Christmas” in itself is actually inclusive and not divisive. By your argument, wishing “Happy Holidays” is also exclusive, exclusive to Christ and those who believe He is real.

    • Totally agree Eca, well said; but like everything there is nuance to this.

      I work in areas with very diverse backgrounds, so in a professional setting it often is more appropriate for me to say, “Happy Holidays” because after all we are secular, right?

      But as I noted in my comment, I think we’re looking so hard to be offended instead of looking for the intent of kindness in a saying like, “Merry Christmas”.

      We all need to relax and just be nice, if someone says something with religious overtones that you don’t like, but it is done in a very nice way with no offense or intent to exclude then what is the harm? And as you so wisely pointed out, people are including you by saying those words & one is being welcomed into the prevailing culture by wishing a stranger, “Merry Christmas”.

      • This is a perfect example of what the writer was trying to convey, that not everyone believes in Christ or that he is real. I think the message here is more about acknowledging there are people who don’t practice Christianity. By saying Merry Christmas, you assume they believe and celebrate Christmas. Instead, saying “Happy Holidays” you take into account their beliefs and traditions and make them feel more included. I think by saying Happy Holidays, we are practicing empathy.

        Brad, I would argue that people who practice different religions are not trying to be accepted or welcomed into America’s culture. They have their own culture and beliefs, and by saying Happy Holidays we are respecting what they believe in and not assuming they should adhere to the norms of Christianity. Also, I really don’t believe this is about people being offended. I think with these small acts, we can all become a little more loving to each other by acknowledging there are people different than us and respecting their life and traditions.

        • Saying “Merry Christmas” is not forcing a religion onto anyone anymore than saying “Good Morning” is forcing someone to have had a good morning.

    • It’s interesting that many people think that “Happy Holidays” is a new thing. The phrase has been around for ages, evidenced in cards from a time period when the U.S. was predominantly Christian. Possibly this was due to people wanting to express greetings for Christmas as well as New Year’s, but it’s also possible that Christians were recognizing the many Christian holy days that used to be celebrated in this season. Now that many Christians focus on Christmas and ignore things like Advent, Epiphany, etc., some Christians seem to think that saying ‘Happy Holidays’ is about being rude to them, but it is really about recognizing the multitude of holy days of the season and now that has expanded to recognizing holy days of other religions as well. It’s only ‘exclusive’ if you make it that way.

      • Most holidays have mixed and confusing histories, including what you have mentioned above. The same as the background that many Christian holidays were originally pagan. The important concept here is that holidays and their meanings, along with words and their meanings, take on the significance that the current culture gives it.

  2. Apparently saying “Merry Christmas” is limiting people’s religious freedom now? Maybe you should reread the first amendment to learn what religious freedom is. That or don’t make claims with no legal backing.

    • I agree Shawn, I can definitely see where the writer is coming from with the importance of being inclusive in the way we address people. However, when they insinuated how wishing people a merry christmas is not respecting religious freedom, I was completely dumbfounded haha. Part of expressing someone’s faith is protected under religious freedom, just as it is for someone to wish me a Happy Hanukkah. However, I do agree that we can be more inclusive and considerate during the holiday season by recognizing other holidays that different faiths celebrate. If someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah, I would have no problem with it all. I agree we can be more inclusive in the way we talk about the holiday season, but the whole argument about religious freedom is totally baseless.

  3. Merry Christmas!! People are really victims if someone tells them Merry Christmas? I guess everyone has there own opinions. If someone tells me Happy Holidays or Happy Hanukkah or whatever, I would be grateful and happy.

  4. Christianity is also a missionary religion, therefore it is also a Christians responsibility to convert others to their faith. I’d hate for you to be condemning a religion from practicing their faith because you don’t want your feelings hurt.

  5. If I was in another country, and wasn’t part of the prevailing religion of said country and someone wished me a greeting tied to that culture it would make me feel welcomed.

    I actually say Happy Holidays in a lot of professional settings, but I certainly would never be offended if someone said Merry Christmas to me, or Happy Hannukah, or if I was the guest of an Islamic practicioner observing Ramadan with them etc.

    There is a line between inclusiveness & exclusiveness, and I don’t think any of us should draw it because it’s always a personal opinion. Wilde said it best (and I believe it applies here, “Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.”

    We all need to draw that line, and it’s just common decency that informs of us what is over the top; and quite honestly if some behavior is really bothering you then you need to speak up.

    I’ll give a great Holiday example, I worked for HR at Zions Bank in the late 90’s; we were the I.S. database dorks and my boss was openly gay (this may shock you but it really wasn’t a big deal even at a conservative mostly LDS business like Zions Bank). The yearly Christmas party was always at an LDS Wardhouse, and he never wanted to go because he didn’t feel welcome there. That is over the top, that is an example of exclusivity, saying, “Merry Christmas” is not (although I personally think there are times when saying, “Happy Holidays”, or, “have a nice Holiday” is more professional/inclusive).

    Mainly I think we all need to chill out & not look for offense in every single thing, because the overwhelming majority of people that say, “Merry Christmas” are just trying to be nice, isn’t that a good thing?

    • Well said, sir. I particularly agree with your point about the inclusivity tied to being greeted in a culturally specific way when you are yourself not part of the culture. It is welcoming, even if you may not personally believe or participate in said religion, and can help you appreciate the spirit and nature of it.

    • I too would feel welcome if someone from another country were to say a greeting to me tied to their culture.

      The problem is when you are a minority who has lived in said country for years (maybe even generations), and the dominate culture has a bone to pick with you, and so has decided to say a particular greeting in order to passive aggressively communicate their resentment.

      • Are you suggesting that saying “Merry Christmas” is a result of having a bone to pick with minority religions/no religions in order to passive aggressively communicate resentment?

  6. While well intentioned as I’m sure this is, I believe that this it is overzealous, even harmful, to have an expectation of any religious group, Christian or not, to have to change language surrounding their respective holidays. Whether it is “Happy Hanukkah”, “Merry Christmas”, or other religiously specific terms, all should be able to express their wishes according to the dictates of their faith and conscience. Putting a burden on Christians, or any religious group, to change their expressions – especially expressions of faith – is unacceptable, especially under the pretense of it making others uncomfortable or “loving my neighbor.” The very suggestion that expressing my faith with “Merry Christmas” is a violation of a basic tenet of Christianity is offensive. I may not be Jewish, but if someone were to wish me, “Happy Hanukkah” I wouldn’t be uncomfortable, I would be honored. Diversity in expressions of faith and celebration like this make this country rich in heritage and cultures. In fact, if allowed to, they can bring us closer together as we mutually appreciate the faith expressed by each other. To deny, or even just to expect, a particular faith to modify language in respect to revered holidays is to take away a cherished part of their faith and their celebration of things holy to them.

  7. Remember that you don’t have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas. In fact, over 81% of non-Christians in the United States celebrate Christmas. Without writing an entire Anthropology essay, it really is a holiday anybody can celebrate. Also, nobody should feel awkward by hearing “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” It’s just personal preference and really not a big deal.

  8. Anyone who is offended by someone wishing them happy Yule, Hannukah, Bodhi Day, Pancha Ganapati, or Merry Christmas who doesn’t celebrate either of those really needs to do some deep soul searching and come to terms with whatever they believe. I’m really tired of people trying to stamp out other people’s beliefs, that is definitely NOT being inclusive.

  9. I’ll continue to say Merry Christmas, and if they want to say happy holidays, happy Kwanzaa, or literally anything else then they are free to and I won’t be offended whatsoever. Nothing caters to everyone, so stop trying.

  10. Trump is the one who has turned this whole thing into a culture war. Before, I never thought twice about saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays (the phrase includes New Years!). Now, I want to say “Happy Holidays” just to spite Trump and all the awfulness he represents.

  11. I grew up in India. Where there are numerous religions and all religions are respected. People wish each other Merry Christmas, Happy Ramadan, Happy Diwali etc etc without taking or giving any offense. Now there are obvious cases of communal strife every now and then by bad apples. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that each holiday is a celebration of each culture. In fact in India holiday is referred to as a “festival”. When society forces malicious intent into a simple innocent ‘wishing’ of happiness during festivities it becomes I’m afraid very divisive. So happy holidays although seems like a secular position, unfortunately it is divisive and not inclusive.

  12. Wish people a Merry Christmas. If they’re offended by your good will, don’t apologize–it’s their problem. Likewise, don’t be offended by another person wishing you a Happy Hanukah, Kwanza, Solstice. or whatever. Just smile and say: thank you!

  13. Diversity is cultivated by creating a wholesome environment where all people feel comfortable to express who they are, not by filtering out anything with a religious connotation. Christians’ use of “Merry Christmas” is meant to be an expression of love and respect. While living abroad in Asia I felt very comfortable when people included me in their traditional greetings even though I did not share their beliefs or culture.

  14. I think that we as people have become so easily offended about so many things. The pendulum has definitely swung too far to the other side now. I’m perfectly happy if someone were to with me a Happy Hanukah or have a conversation with me as to what Ramadan is all about or how long it lasts. In fact, I’ve had those very conversations with coworkers and I am genuinely happy for them. I will stick with Merry Christmas since that is what this holiday is all about, the birth of Christ. I often wish we could do without all the presents and the shopping and just enjoy the holiday for what it is and have good quality times with our friends and especially our families. I have never used the term X-Mas, etc. I just don’t think that Christ should be cut out of Christmas even in that way. If I were in another country and the majority of people there celebrated differently than I do, as long as it wasn’t with ill intent, I would be happy to receive their greetings as they chose to give them to me. And if I wasn’t aware of how to respond, I would learn how because I know it is important to those who live there.

  15. What if they don’t celebrate any holidays around this time of year? Then by your logic are they not being made to feel excluded by you wishing them a “Happy Holidays?” If a person feels excluded or offended because someone wished them well with a greeting that means a lot to them, than that person should really reevaluate themselves because it means they are looking to be offended.

  16. I agree with Brad: if I were in another country, or our own, and people wished me a “Happy Hannukah” or whatever else, then I would feel more included than had they created their own all-encompassing greeting that they don’t actually use among themselves–they only deliver to outsiders. In addition, you could easily argue, employing the same logic this article uses, that “Happy Holidays” is non-inclusive, because it doesn’t account for the numerous cultures, religious traditions, and spiritual beliefs which don’t have holidays that fall in this season. So Shaelyn, “Happy Holidays” is actually quite offensive, non-inclusive, and in clear denial of our cultural diversity.

    The other portion of this article I find irritating is how much it’s concerned with and assumes a huge number of people’s feelings. Other people’s feelings are not my responsibility or your responsibility, they’re actually the responsibility of the individual. For that reason, I think it would be more wise to take this issue on an individual basis than on the basis of how you assume the entire group feels–because it’s unlikely that an entire social, racial, or religious group is going to have perfect consensus on an issue–or anything close to it. Can we please remember the individual?

  17. You know… every time I read one of these pieces, all I see in the comments are people absolutely disagreeing with the author. It’s gotten to the point that I think some people may benefit from thinking a little bit harder about the things they intend to write.

    I won’t dismiss that “Happy Holidays” can be more inclusive, and if someone is concerned about excluding others, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying it. But to claim that wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” can, and I’m quoting the article here, “make people feel exluded, saddened or misunderstood because of the lack of representation and misunderstanding of their religions” seems ridiculous to me. I echo the sentiments that if I lived in a predominantly Jewish society, and were wished “Happy Hanukah,” I would feel very welcomed, and would happily reciprocate by saying “Happy Hanukah to you too!”

    As a Mormon, I know a thing or two about feeling “excluded” and “misunderstood.” There are literally thousands of people who devote themselves to destroying Mormonism, and significantly more who either know nothing of the religion or are completely misinformed. I had some friends of mine from back in New York who would make fun of Mormons in front of me: they felt stupid after I told them I was one, but that was the end of it. I didn’t hold a grudge: instead, I laughed about it. If someone is getting offended by the well-wish of “Merry Christmas,” then I do, whole-heartedly, believe it is their problem and not society’s.

    According to Pew Research in 2012, 46% of Americans say they don’t care one way or the other how they are greeted during the holidays. About 42% of Americans prefer “Merry Christmas.” That leaves only about 12% that actually prefer “Happy Holidays.” Why should 88% of the people change to accommodate 12%? And keep in mind some of those 12% aren’t actually non-Christians who feel excluded by the statement; some of them are, certainly, people like the author who are trying to champion a cause apparently for the sake of others. To quote Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” I understand and can even respect – to a degree – wanting to champion causes for people one might feel are excluded and oppressed. But that’s where I say “Pick your battles,” because I personally know many non-Christians who would disagree with this article.

    I want to reiterate that if someone wants to say Happy Holidays, more power to them! I can respect and understand it a lot. But this article is telling us that we need to say Happy Holidays, and claiming that if we don’t we are attacking other people. I don’t appreciate someone else telling me what my intentions are and what the responses of other people, whom the author doesn’t know, are. If this topic were “Don’t joke about rape in public because someone listening may have been raped and you may have just triggered emotional trauma to come back,” I could accept it more. But “Don’t say Merry Christmas?” No: I find that in the spirit of “equality,” that sentiment is squashing Christianity rather than uplifting other religions and beliefs. We should be encouraging people to wish us whatever well-wishes they like: THAT is true equality and tolerance.

    With all that said, I’ll wish the author “Happy Holidays.” And I will wish it to everyone else: not because it is offensive to say “Merry Christmas,” but because I simply want to say “Happy Holidays” right now.

  18. ¡Late Edit!

    In case I came off contradictory:

    *I don’t think any of us should draw that line for others, we need to draw if for ourselves & respect the right for others to draw it for themselves (i.e. free agency & the right to be an individual w/ an opinion).

  19. Shaelyn Barber, when someone says, “Happy Pride Day!” do you get offended? I’m not gay, but I have friends that are, and I don’t take offense that they are happy about that day, and that they hope I am happy too.

    This article is actually the opposite of what you mean it to be. You tried to make an argument for understanding and exclusivity, while not being divisive, but what you actually said is quite the opposite. You are being divisive, exclusive, and not understanding of the surrounding culture. I’ll let you in on a secret, if you are hearing Merry Christmas a lot where you are, the culture there might be somewhat into Christmas.

    Will I take offense if someone wishes me Happy Holidays? No. Happy Hanukkah, no offense there. Happy Kwanzaa? I would think it was interesting that you celebrate Kwanzaa, but still no offense, in fact, let’s hang out! If we educate ourselves about other cultures, holidays, and religions, we’ll be open minded and not take offense when we get a culture related greeting!

  20. Say Happy Holidays or Marry Christmas! Both are considered to be an endearing message so why can’t we see it that way? Instead of constantly looking for how we are different why not try to look at how we are all the made of the same stuff. If we can’t put our differences aside for what we call “the season of giving and good will toward everyone” then when can we?

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