Opinion: Saying Merry Christmas or happy holidays

As people begin decorating Christmas trees and putting up Christmas lights, and children begin writing lists to Santa, everyone seems full of holiday cheer. But, with this holiday cheer comes some controversy over whether people should say “Merry Christmas” or “happy holidays.”

The debate seems to arise as retailers take down their decorations for Turkey Day and begin wishing holiday greetings to customers.

Disagreements have started about the importance of each phrase. Some argue that saying “Merry Christmas” should be used in all cases, and that it encompasses the same meaning as happy holidays, while others say “Merry Christmas” can be offensive to those who celebrate other holidays. 

There are many holidays that surround December from a multitude of religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Paganism and more.

The period of late November to early January is lumped together as the “holiday season.” There are the big holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s, plus dates that receive less attention, like Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Boxing Day and Festivus.

With that many holidays crammed into a few weeks, it makes sense to go with the general phrase. But each year the memes begin circulating social media involving Santa Claus and Christmas trees with the phrase “It’s not happy holidays, it’s Merry Christmas. Share to agree.” 

In general, the phrase “happy holidays” is accepted as the broadest and most inclusive at this time of year. Most of the time, if you know someone has a Christmas tree or a Santa Claus in their front yard, you can go with “Merry Christmas,” and if you know someone has a menorah instead of a Christmas tree, you can probably say “Happy Hanukkah” without worry. However, the controversy begins when you don’t know what someone celebrates. 

True, there aren’t as many people who celebrate all of those holidays, but the point is to acknowledge that different people celebrate different holidays. 

This debate isn’t just about words. It’s about being politically correct and inclusive of diverse beliefs and traditions across the country. 

Although Christmas has been the most widely celebrated holiday in the U.S. for decades, the U.S. is more diverse than it has ever been before. Some people get a Christmas tree, but don’t have any traditions associated with Christianity, and plenty of people have a different religious tradition or no religious tradition at all. 

Saying “happy holidays” to someone who celebrates Christmas could ruffle some feathers, but one holiday being more popular than the others doesn’t mean you should ignore the others. 

One way to think of it is that “happy holidays” includes Christmas as one of those holidays.

A good rule is if you don’t know what someone celebrates, use the broad phrase, “happy holidays.” It’s as easy as that. 

It’s not an insult to Christmas. It’s a way of wishing someone well and showing that you respect and value whatever religion or tradition they observe.

In a time of year that is already hectic, wondering what to wish people can be another stress. But don’t forget that, even with all of the errands to run and tasks and projects that need to be finished by the end of the year, this is also a season that is supposed to be joyful and merry. You’re wishing someone a positive time of year. What matters most is the sentiment behind it, not the specific holiday they celebrate.