Saying Happy Holidays *is* Acceptable


NonsenseThis time of year we get inundated on Facebook and Twitter with this sort of stupid, offensive warning about saying “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of Merry Christmas. A couple of these appeared in a few hours just today, and there will be more, no doubt.

Sorry, but it’s just xenophobic hogwash; an uncomfortably fundamentalist and increasingly political sentiment. By the same token, how would you feel if people started demanding you greet one another with Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa? Put the shoe on the other foot and see how it feels. Like it’s a bit of cyberbullying? That’s exactly what it is.

Now I have little tolerance for that faux political correctness that has infected our language, but I have even less little tolerance for religion being forced down anyone’s throat. Any religion. This is a secular society, not a theocracy, and because of that we allow and respect all faiths and creeds. Okay, we might laugh at the wingnuts like the Scientologists and Raelians, but we accept them. And we accept Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Zoroastrians, Jews and everyone else whose faith is not Christian. We even sometimes accept atheists with the same affection. *

No he wasn'tWhy get upset if someone says “happy holidays?” It’s not Christmas for everyone and you can’t always ask “Are you a Christian?” before saying it.

Saying happy holidays is just a pleasant, all-encompassing, friendly greeting that avoids religious or cultural stereotypes. It’s not meant to offend: it’s meant to give the widest reach. I’ll keep saying it. I’ll also wish people Merry Christmas – if I know their religious bent or it seems suitable. Neither one is offensive to me and we shouldn’t encourage those who are trying to make it so.

And what do you say after Christmas? You can’t really wish someone a Merry Christmas after the day has passed. That’s like saying Happy Labour Day in October, or Happy Victoria Day in June. Saying happy holidays and season’s greeting works just fine after December 25.

What is offensive is suggesting we have to say Merry Christmas instead of any other greeting. Suggesting that in Canada you must say Merry Christmas is borderline racist and culturally insensitive. Canada is not an intolerant nation of fundamentalist Christians (as it often appears the US is becoming). I’d prefer to think we are a tolerant, open, multicultural nation and we say happy holidays out of respect for the almost-11 million non-Christian Canadians and their traditions.**

The “Christmas controversy” is humbug. There is no “war on Christmas” outside the mindset of Fox News (please don’t let them infect Canadians!). Most of the Christmas traditions aren’t even Christian – they were absorbed from pagan religions and cults as Christianity spread through Europe. Wikipedia reminds us:

…the symbols and traditions that Western societies have come to associate with Christmas, such as caroling, Christmas trees, mistletoe, holly wreaths and yule logs were originally syncretized from pre-Christian pagan traditions and festivals that predate Jesus… such symbols and traditions need not be directly associated with Christmas.

Don’t get me started on shopping and consumerism at this time of year. What sort of Christian tradition sees big box stores selling Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music before Remembrance Day? That’s just offensive, not religious, but it has become a popular way to snare early shoppers. Saying Merry Christmas as the mandatory seasonal greeting doesn’t do anything to stem the tide of commercial greed this time of year.

We all celebrate this time of year differently. Some of us don’t celebrate it religiously, others do. Let’s be inclusive, not exclusive. Say to people what you feel is best suited for the occasion and the context. No need for this to become a political issue, as The Guardian noted:

In America, the term “Christmas” still has a strongly religious connotation to it (despite what years of Santa and the “buy buy buy” mentality have done to the spirit of holiday). That’s only further reinforced by claims on Fox News and other conservative outlets that there is a “war on Christmas” and, by extension, a war on the Christian faith. Now wishing people a “Merry Christmas” almost has a political tone to it.

Almost? No, it has a political tone because some people are trying very hard to make it a political issue. And that’s taking away from the mood of the season, from what people love and enjoy about it, from any positive religious connotations, and from any gestures of friendship and goodwill.

Me, I’ll continue unabashedly to say season’s greetings and happy holidays to people as I see fit.


* Approximately 2/3rds of Canadians are Christian; 8.1% are non-Christian, and 24% have no religious affiliation. That means saying Merry Christmas to one out of three Canadians is inappropriate.

** A 2011 Ipsos Reid poll found the majority of Canadians prefer to say Merry Christmas than any other seasonal greeting, the NatPost reported. But saying it just because others are doing so is argumentum ad populum – a logical fallacy. The poll didn’t ask how people would feel if we were forced into saying it, however. Rather interestingly the story notes that people who say Merry Christmas don’t always have a religious sense of the greeting:

Thirty-five per cent of Atlantic Canadians see Christmas as a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ. The rest of Canada isn’t far behind, but just six per cent of Quebecers agreed, which Wright said could have to do with Montreal’s multicultural population.

It’s worth reading about how and when December 25 was chosen as the date for the birth; many scholars suggest it was wrongly chosen. But that’s outside this post’s frame.

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  1. abbottaerospace

    It is a counter intuitive position to say that preferring ‘Merry Christmas’ is a political move when removing Merry Christmas from the public lexicon has clearly been a political move as it originates from the public sector and public funded entities.
    Wanting to remove something that is political is only political in the same sense that the act of amputation in the case of gangrene is a gangrenous act…..

    If people greet me with Happy holidays I see pointless and lazy political correctness – if you wish to remove all religions from the public sphere the you will have to rename most days of the week and avoid the use of the word ‘holiday’ (holy-day) and the use of the term good bye (god-be-with-ye).

    I am an atheist but I am not afraid of religion and enjoy embracing harmless religious traditions in substance and in name. If it is Eid I will wish a Muslim Happy Eid, if it is Diwali I will do the same to a Hindu – why would I not use the work Christmas when I am talking about….erm….Christmas? Playing linguistic games and demonising those who resist joining in – is all rather double-plus good.

  2. It’s not about preference: it’s political when someone tries to force others to use a religious greeting over a secular one.

    I’m not afraid of religion either – but I am afraid of having it forced upon my society. i don’t want to remove either from the public lexicon: I just want to be able to choose. Not from laziness, but from respect, and from personal choice..

    I doubt Christopher Hitchens would have agreed that all religious traditions are “harmless.” Some may be, but others…

  3. abbottaerospace

    Hitch would also have noted that I did not state that all religious traditions are harmless – but that I made the implicit distinction that we should celebrate the harmless ones.

    People trying to restore Christmas to the public sphere are not necessarily forcing religion on you, but are keen not to lose the true meaning and origins of a now ancient tradition after it has been removed by political correctness. you can choose -but so can everyone else and if people choose to use the word Christmas that is just as valid.

    As I have pointed out – you likely use a religious form of farewell – (unless you only use ‘see ya’ in all circumstances) – why is this not a problem? – how about secular days of the week – Odin, Thor and Freya are more than just religious figures – they are actual gods. Just removing references to Christianity from public discourse seems manifestly targeted and vindictive.

    I’ll be interested to hear your proposals for purely secular days of the week.

    • I never said I’d remove religious references. I use them – and say Merry Christmas, too – but that people should be allowed to choose their form of address without feeling bullied into conforming to one religion’s perspective. I still think it’s a conspiracy cooked up by Fox News….

      As for changing the days of the week – didn’t the French try after the Revolution, that with rather limited success? Me, I’m as happy to call the days one, two, three and so on. Or Shivaday, Baalday, GitcheeGumaday, Asura|Mazdaday if that works. I’m even okay with FlyingSpaghettiMonsterday.

      The “true” meaning of Christmas? That’s another topic and another post. My concern here is over linguistic bullying.

      But I don’t agree we should have to celebrate ANY religious traditions: it should be our choice. And all of our public cultural, governmental and bureaucratic institutions should be rigorously secular.

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