When I'm not sure, or when I'm addressing a group, I say, "Happy Holidays."
I don't say this to slight Christmas, but to be polite and sensible. Wishing "Merry Christmas" to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas is like wishing someone "Happy birthday" when his birthday is six months off --- it's not so much rude as it is weird.
At the same time, however, wishing someone "Happy Holidays" when you have good reason to believe that he celebrates Christmas is also weird.
It comes off as prissy, and, intentionally or not, it carries with it the suggestion that you, the speaker, feel "Christmas" is a word that polite people avoid.
This suggestion, in turn, feeds a fear that modern secular culture is out to remove Christ from the winter holiday season one greeting at a time, if necessary.
I get that. I happen to think the fear is baseless. Observing the Nativity remains the overwhelming reason most Americans celebrate at this time of year, and their freedom to do so is vast. But I see how "Happy Holidays" can sound like a cold dismissal of that observance.
At the same time, I see how "Merry Christmas" as a blanket greeting carries with it the suggestion to the non-Christian that those who don't celebrate Christmas are misfits; oddballs whose strange beliefs don't command even a tip of the verbal cap.
This suggestion, in turn, feeds the fear that the dominant Christian culture secretly longs for a return to the days when religious indoctrination was implicitly woven into many facets of American public life.
I get that too.
But I also get the irony: Two little expressions that most people use simply to extend goodwill and respect are now encumbered with the baggage of suspicion and dread. An appalling 32 percent of retail shoppers in a recent Zogby International poll said they're offended--offended!--when a store clerk, who presumably does not know their faith, greets them with an all-inclusive "Happy Holidays." The nerve! Suggesting a random American might not be a Christian!
December 21, 2006
A good one on the WOC
Eric Zorn on Christmas greetings (H/T to UBUB)