A couple of years ago we at AMERiders were asked and responded with about which we preferred to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or even Happy Christmas. With it being just a few days left till Christmas Well, we thought we would repost our answer and give you the story behind each saying, and let you decide.
We wish people a ‘Happy Birthday’, and if you’re in the USA in November and December you might say ‘Happy Holidays’, so why do we say ‘Merry Christmas’ more often than ‘Happy Christmas’?!
Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ rather than ‘Happy Christmas’ seems to go back several hundred years. It’s first recorded in 1534 when John Fisher (an English Catholic Bishop in the 1500s) wrote it in a Christmas letter to Thomas Cromwell: “And this our Lord God send you a Merry Christmas, and a comfortable, to your heart’s desire.”
There’s also the carol “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” which dates back to the 16th century in England. It comes from the West Country in England and it was first published in the form we know it today in 1760.
In the English language of the time, the phrase ‘Rest You Merry’ didn’t mean simply to be happy; ‘rest’ meant “to keep, cause to continue to remain” and ‘merry’ could mean “pleasant, bountiful, prosperous”. So you could write the first line as “[May] God keep you and continue to make you successful and prosperous, Gentlemen” but that would be hard to sing!
The comma in the phrase should be AFTER the ‘merry’ not BEFORE it! But it’s often put after the merry which changes the meaning to make ‘merry Gentleman’ and so a ‘Merry Christmas’!
The term ‘Merry Christmas’ might well have been made very popular in 1843 from two different sources.
The first Christmas Card, sent in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, had this wording on it: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You”.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was also published in 1843 and the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ appears 21 times in the book! Charles Dickens also quoted “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” in A Christmas Carol, but changed it to: “God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!” moving the comma to before the merry!
However…. there is the war on Christmas about Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays…
So, consider this a primer to help all of us ‘just get along’ during this ‘holiday season.’
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.
For example, during the month of Ramadan, I say to my Muslim friends ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ because it shows them that I acknowledge their tradition and wish them well as they observe the holy time in their calendar. This courtesy and respect should be part of what it means to live in a pluralistic society and it is easy for all of us to offer to those to whom we are close.
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.
That is the very reason that many stores use Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas because they want to be inclusive and welcome as many dollars, ahem, people, into their stores as possible. So, using Happy Holidays is not anti-Christmas, it is pro-business, and we don’t want to be anti-business do we?
So, let a thousand flowers bloom — let’s have Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs; Kwanzaa lessons, HumanLight celebrations, and Pagan solstice rituals — let’s do it all. It’s so much more fun to cast a wide net where all can celebrate our traditions together rather than strip everything away to protect the delicate sensibilities of some very prickly few.
And now a special note to my fellow Christians who talk so much about the war on Christmas. I get it, for a long, long time Christianity was dominant in the United States and represented the civic religion of the country. But America is about the people who are here now, and that is a much more diverse group. And that’s good! It is time to stop insisting that everything revolves around us. Instead, let’s join the wider circle of the many traditions that make up our country. Besides, any Christian knows that Christmas is not about displays in shopping malls, or capitols, or schools, it is about a spiritual event that we honor most in our families and our homes.
So, Merry Christmas, Christians; Happy Hanukkah, Jews; Super Solstice, Pagans; Hurray, Human Light Humanists; Joyous Kwanzaa to African Diaspora and to everyone all together — Happy Holidays. See you at the party!
~And as always…
~Live Free Ride Hard~
AMERiders wants to know What Your Holiday Greeting is? Is it Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?
And as always don’t forget to send us your stories, pictures, and events for posting to GALLERY.AMERIDERS @ GMAIL.COM and we will post them for you. The more people that know about your event the better and we are offering free advertising. We would also love to hear about your rides and love to see those bikes so send those stories and pictures.