Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Why wishing ‘Merry Christmas’ is politically incorrect and what to say instead

'This debate isn’t just about words: it’s about being politically correct and inclusive of diverse beliefs and traditions across the country,' a blog says


                            Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Why wishing ‘Merry Christmas’ is politically incorrect and what to say instead
Santa Claus decorations (Getty Images)

Christmas has almost arrived and while it is time to exchange pleasantries — this year it would be mostly virtual meet-ups and couriered presents due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the debate over whether to wish “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” seems to have resurfaced again. So, is there a politically correct way to wish someone during this festive season?

According to a Grammarly blog, “This debate isn’t just about words: it’s about being politically correct and inclusive of diverse beliefs and traditions across the country.” In the blog, Alice EM Underwood states that wishing “Merry Christmas” to someone who celebrates Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or nothing at all could lead them to feel left out.

The blog also acknowledges the other situation where someone who celebrates Christmas might also feel bad, but they reason, “Think of it this way: 'Happy Holidays' includes Christmas as one of those holidays and 'Merry Christmas' leaves out everything other than Christmas.”

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A 2017 Business Insider article stated that President Donald Trump had promised during his presidential campaign to free America of the generic holiday greeting, which he considers a form of political correctness gone awry, and replace it with his preferred “Merry Christmas”. The article had cited a Public Policy Polling survey that found that more than 80% of Americans didn't care which one people said.

According to a Pew Research Center poll about how customers are greeted by stores, a full 52% of people said they didn't care which greeting they received. Rev Paul Brandeis Raushenbush wrote an article for HuffPost in 2013, and stated, “Let’s start with the fact that there are several holidays that fall during December including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and the newly minted secular HumanLight.”

“They all would like, and deserve to be acknowledged and respected.” He explained, “So this brings us to the Merry Christmas vs Happy Holiday debate that is not complicated and is solved with basic etiquette. If you know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas you should say to them ‘Merry Christmas’. Likewise, say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to a person you know is Jewish, etc.”

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He added, “However if you don’t know the spiritual tradition of a co-worker, friend, or stranger in the elevator but wish to offer them a ‘season’s greeting’ — a simple ‘Happy Holiday’ is not at all an insult or denigration of Christmas or any other tradition. It is an appropriate and inclusive salutation that recognizes that there are many ways that people are observing the season and you don’t know enough to be specific.”

Actor Whoopi Goldberg in a 2017 HuffPost article had said, “'Happy holidays' allows everybody to be included. When you’re walking past somebody, you don’t know what their religious beliefs are or whether they have them. If they have religious beliefs and you can’t tell what they are, say 'Happy holidays'.”

She added, “This idea that we can only say one thing is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And clearly, this is some political ploy to make people feel better in some way.” Goldberg added, “But the truth of the matter is this is America where we celebrate all of our holidays ― whenever they are ― and we don’t necessarily say 'happy this' or 'happy that', we say 'happy holidays'. That’s what you say.”

The remarks and opinions included in this article are by individuals and independent organizations. It does not reflect MEAWW's beliefs. The respective references are linked in the article.