…or an excuse to get angry at those who don’t greet us with the proper greeting?
ON A PERSONAL NOTE By Maramis
Whether you say Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, or some version of Joyous Noel, we all appreciate a greeting that wishes us good things for our special holiday of Christmas. Obviously, this is written for those who celebrate Christmas, but in a broader sense, it’s written for everyone, since we all live through the same months, no matter what holidays are celebrated…or not.
Yet what about those whose special holiday is Hanakkah or Kwanzaa? Or, even if we’re not familiar with it, what if some other holiday is celebrated? There’s been a lot of low key complaints about the greeting, “Happy Holidays” in the past few years. It’s as though the
“happy-holidayers” are akin to a bunch of atheistic Grinches (no offence to those who fit that description), desperate to steal Christmas away from those who insist on the “Merry Christmas” greeting. Well, let’s look at how that “Happy Holidays” greeting got started. The following was culled from various internet sites, but not word for word: The greeting “Happy Holidays” started to be popular in the 1860s. The Civil War’s bitter lines of division needed some way to reunite the country, and the rise of newspapers, with softening stories and articles helped, along with the rising availability and popularity of greeting cards at Christmastime, which helped facilitate the effort.
Advertisers, of course, encouraged the use of “Happy Holidays” as a way to appeal to a broader swath of customers, leaving no one out. But overall, it was an inclusive gesture in wishing each other happiness for the season.
Mass immigration during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, along with new religious traditions, contributed to an increasingly diverse religious culture in this country. Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthodoxies, evangelicals, and a wide variety of religious beliefs
became the new norm in American life. Saying “Happy Holidays” celebrated past traditions while encouraging new ones, without
stepping on anyone’s toes.
America has always been at its best when it seeks inclusion and unity, and the growing use of “Happy Holidays” is one small, easy-to-do and yet perhaps largely misunderstood aspect of those very values.
So, saying “Happy Holidays’’ not only has a long and interesting history (it is certainly not a new thing, nor a political thing), but it actually reaffirms all the different holidays during this time of year. With that in mind, consider that if you only say Merry Christmas, you might not be using the best greeting for everyone.
(Jews would not automatically wish you a Happy Hanukkah, while they would save that for their Jewish friends, yet if they did not know if you were Jewish or not, “Happy Holidays” would come to the rescue!
That one tradition — using the phrase “Happy Holidays” still sadly gets misunderstood during this time of year, especially among us
Americans. Some folks think that using this term, instead of saying “Merry Christmas,” diminishes the importance of this time of the year for them. They think the term is too recent, too modern, too bereft of meaning, or without a tradition of its own. However, when one does a little digging, they’ll soon find out that the phrase has a long and treasured history here in the United States.
This is not to say that “Happy Holidays” is to always be preferred any more than “Merry Christmas” is always to be preferred. It’s kind of like wishing someone a happy birthday when it’s really their anniversary. The greeting is okay, but it just doesn’t match what they
are celebrating. While this is the season to be jolly, it’s also the season to be solemn if one wants to be, and it can be the season for
any number of activities that the person chooses to celebrate during this whole season, which generally starts with Thanksgiving and lasts through the new year.
We’re not obligated to know how everyone celebrates the season or even what they celebrate when we see them on the street (of course, we won’t be seeing too many people on the street or out in public this particular holiday season, what with being more or less told to stay at home, except for the absolute necessity of shopping and such. Some brave or foolhardy souls may still venture out to their places of worship or their friends’ homes, or even various public places, and find more people to offer their greetings to, so understanding why “Happy Holidays” is not only an okay thing to say but a kind and thoughtful thing to say is important, as long as you know and believe that it is not the equivalent of saying “I don’t believe in Christmas,” or “I don’t want anything to do with religion or Jesus.”
We really don’t need anyone in so-called authority to tell us how to express our greetings. Living in a free country means we can express our greetings any way we want, but if we want to be inclusive — especially when we don’t know the person or what they may be
celebrating, we cannot go wrong with “Happy Holidays.” It is not the greeting of a person who has anything against Christmas. It is not
offered by an anti-Christian kind of person or someone who is trying to wipe out all traces of Christmas. On the contrary, it is the
greeting of someone who is choosing to be inclusive and sensitive to the traditions and sensibilities of those we do not know.
I will generally wish those I know a Merry Christmas, and those I do not know Happy Holidays, so to those reading this column, I guess it’s a little of both.
May happiness, peace and love find you, wherever you are!
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at email@example.com.