Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

It’s more complicated than you think.


It’s December, and once again in the US there is a debate over whether one should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.  Since both are friendly greetings, you would think it shouldn’t be an issue.  Trust me, it is.

Huffington Post columnist Doyin Richards describes “happy holidays” as a greeting of inclusion because not everyone celebrates Christmas, even if they celebrate something between 24 December and 1 January.  On the other side of this argument, there are those for whom the phrase “happy holidays” is nothing more than political correctness gone berserk or worse.

In 2017, President Trump vowed to rid America of any mention of “Happy Holidays”. Grammarly has written an article on the issue, as has The Atlantic.  The conservative National Review, which has been around since 1955 and has a circulation of over 100,000 subscribers, believes that eliminating “Christmas” from the greeting is a part of a left-wing effort to secularise both American and European society.

Happy whatever doesn't offendThis may seem like a silly argument confined to the US, but the reality is, it can be a cultural minefield.

Imagine the conference call with the New York office this week.  What do you say?

Are those on the call celebrating Christmas?  What if they celebrate something else or nothing at all?

Chances are, the people on the call will be a mixture of cultures and beliefs.  You have two choices:  ignore the situation and say nothing, in which case you will be perceived as rude; or, go with the generic “happy holidays,” in which case you may insult someone.

So now what?

Start with active listening.  They may give you a hint of what they have planned or what they celebrate during the conversation.  If it isn’t obvious, ask if they will be taking time off or if and how they will be celebrating.  If any of this feels too awkward or personal, simply send them off with “enjoy the holidays” along with a wish for the coming new year.  It’s different enough from the “happy holidays” trap to keep you safe yet includes everyone in the greeting.

As for myself, I would like to wish all my readers happiness, whatever they celebrate, and peace, health and prosperity for the coming new year.


Laura MarshallsayThanks for dropping by this week.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments, or if you’d like to speak to me about you or your organisation’s training needs.

Marshallsay English – Connecting your world through language.

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