‘Happy Holidays’ versus ‘Merry Christmas’

Dan Savage says something that absolutely resonates with me. It had never bothered me to have people wish me merry Christmas or for me to wish them similarly in return. But this whole nonsense of the ‘war of Christmas’ which has made the phrase ‘merry Christmas’ into a shibboleth to prove that one was not hostile to Christmas has actually had the reverse effect, where I hesitate to say it so as to avoid looking like I am on the side of the Christian nutcases.

I was never a “happy holidays” guy. Christmas was a big deal in my home growing up, and it’s a big deal in the home I share with Terry. December is Christmas. I’ve always wished people “merry Christmas” without really giving it a thought. Ho-ho-ho.

But that’s over now.

Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly and Fox News and the Family Research Council and the woman who allegedly punched another woman outside Walmart earlier this week for saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” managed to break me of the “merry Christmas” habit. I suspect I’m not alone. This constant bitching from the right about “happy holidays”—a perfectly lovely expression that embraces Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Pancha Ganapati, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Hanukkah, the Epiphany, Saint Nicholas’s Day, Hogmanay, Twelfth Night, and Kwanzaa—has made one thing clear. Not that there is now, or ever was, a war on Christmas. But that saying “merry Christmas” is an asshole move. Just as conservatives made patriotism toxic during the Vietnam War by conflating it with blind obedience to authority (“My country, right or wrong!”), modern conservatives have made “merry Christmas” toxic by associating it with Christian fundamentalism, religious intolerance, and the politics of imagined persecution.

Unfortunately, the war on Christmas is a game Palin and O’Reilly and Fox News and the Family Research Council can’t lose. The more they complain about people saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” the fewer people will say “merry Christmas.” This will be held up as proof that the war on Christmas is real. But people like me aren’t replacing “merry Christmas” with “happy holidays” to be “politically correct,” as Palin insists in the introduction to her stupid book, we’re doing it because we don’t want people to think we’re assholes.

Well said, Dan.


  1. rq says

    Yes. This. I feel bad for saying ‘Merry Christmas’ because it now comes with a whole load of extra luggage that wasn’t there before.

  2. AnotherAnonymouse says

    After I received a reprimand at work for not saying “Merry Christmas” to a customer whose computer problems I was in the middle of solving (I didn’t say “Happy Holidays”, either–my words were 100% work-related so I could get that idiot off the phone and move on to the next one), I made sure to say “Happy Holidays” to everyone who wished me a “Merry Christmas”. I’ve seen the same thing as Dan Savage–the “Merry Christmas” is particularly aggressive this year.

  3. ekwhite says

    This whole war on Christmas thing is starting to piss me off. If the fundies are going to make a big deal of Merry Christmas, I will stop saying it also. And I will punch back.

  4. Wylann says

    I can tell a lot of times people say merry xmas in response to my happy holidays, they might as well be saying fuck you. Those are the people I specifically go out of my way to say happy holidays, and mean it. 🙂

  5. coragyps says

    I may start with “Spiffy Epiphany” right now – there’s still about a week before it gets here this year. The funny part will be that only a subset of Catholics and Episcopalians will even have the foggiest notion of what the word even refers to.

  6. DrewN says

    I’m not looking forward to fundamentalists trying to put the “hallowed” back in halloween as their next little project.

  7. Frank says

    I’ve found “Happy Holidays” a bit awkward, especially when I’m actually referring to Christmas, e.g., when someone is leaving the office early to travel to celebrate Christmas. I prefer “Happy Christmas.” It has the same meaning, but doesn’t carry the same political undertone of “Merry Christmas.” And it’s a shame that “Merry Christmas” has any political undertone at all.

  8. Frank says


    And some former Catholics. It would be interesting to see how many Catholics vs. former Catholics would understand.

  9. Trickster Goddess says

    I don’t use either. I just wish people a Happy Solstice. People can celebrate whatever holiday they want and I will be happy for them, but I would like to see solstice being promoted as the secular holiday of the season that everybody can feel a part of.

  10. minxatlarge says

    Former Catholic here. I’m sad that the people who scream “Merry Christmas” most loudly are unaware that there are really, truly, sincerely 12 Days of Christmas. 12! Holy! Days! They even take their decorations down before Epiphany! What kind of secular heathens are they to miss the Feasts of Saint Stephen and St. John, never mind Childermas (with red sauce on cakes and ice cream to memorialize the murder by Herod of 14,000 male children, I am not making this up. About the red sauce, I mean.)

    They don’t even know about Candlemas! Which is The True End of Christmastide! I’ll bet that they never mention the Circumcision of Jesus either! Just wait until those brown people (of whom loudly shrieking people seem to be terrified) become a majority. Posadas for everyone!

    Or something.


  11. says

    I have new foreign coworkers who now work alongside me and the Taiwanese people at my place of work. I am openly atheist and both knew before December 25th that I didn’t partake in any of it, didn’t consider it important.

    And yet, both became peeved because when they said, “merry christmas” to me on the 25th, I responded “Happy Day of Earth Law”, and said that to anyone else who said the former to me. “Day of Earth Law” is the anniversary of Taiwan’s declaration of human rights and freedoms for its citizens.

    The Taiwanese I said it to were happy to hear it, happy to know a foreigner was aware of it. They consider it an important day, even if it’s not a statutory holiday. But foreigners at work and elsewhere, not so much (“not important” to them, and not happy).

  12. mnb0 says

    I have abandoned the Dutch version of Happy Christmas (Prettige Kerstdagen en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar) many years ago, mainly because I’m lazy. It’s Enjoy your Celebration Days now (Prettige Feestdagen) because that includes New Year’s Eve.

  13. mnb0 says

    @10 Trickster: “I just wish people a Happy Solstice”
    I feel discriminated. Living near the equator as I do I haven’t experienced a solstice in 13 years.

  14. says

    mnb0 (#14) –

    May I be nosy and ask what country? I live in Taiwan, and have lived in a city, Chiayi, which is on the 23rd parallel. There’s an obelisk in the city which has no shadow on June 21. This isn’t it, it’s a different one.


    Taiwan has two seasons, “summer and not summer”, just like where I lived in Canada, two seasons, “winter and not winter”. This past week has been the coldest week I’ve felt in eight years, five days of single digit celsius temperatures.

  15. mobius says

    I agree. I was most often saying “Merry Christmas” during the Holiday Seasons. But not any more. The whole War on Christmas thing has alienated me.

    Recently I said to a group, “Happy Holidays. And yes, to you Christmas Warriors out there, that includes Christmas.”

  16. DsylexicHippo says

    Next time, try “Happy Kwanzaa” in return instead. I find it hilarious when I hear them say, always with an eye roll but with a complete lack of irony, that “Kwanzaa is a made up holiday, you know”.

  17. wtfwhateverd00d says

    You’re in your fifties or sixties dude. Time to stop worrying about what people think of you and say what you think is right.

  18. Ann Bergin says

    It’s always been simple for me…been doing this for over 5 decades: If I KNOW what you celebrate, I can say Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanzaa or Happy New Year or Happy Solstice or Happy Epiphany etc.
    If I don’t KNOW what you celebrate, I can say Happy Holidays / Seasons Greetings!

  19. Ann Bergin says

    ps./..it’s kind of like:

    …if I know it’s your birthday, I’ll say “Happy Birthday!”

    If I don’t know it’s your birthday I’ll say “Have a great day!”

    …also…wouldn’t want to say “Happy Birthday” to someone, when it’s not his/her birthday!

  20. Lucas Beauchamp says

    “Merry Christmas” has historically had no religious connotation. The “merry” in “Merry Christmas” is the same “merry” in “eat, drink, and be merry.” It invokes a holiday that is more debauched than reverent.

    The proper response to “Merry Christmas” is, “I’ll drink to that!”

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