Should You Say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays?"

This article is one writer's opinion, and is meant in no way to belittle or deny any religion, practice or creed.


Welcome to the 2017 holiday season, that time of year that reignites the tired "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas" debate. This debate has become loud, political and seems to escalate with every passing year. 


Image via The Odyssey


In this article, I’ll be bringing my opinion to the “happy holidays” debate. I know everyone is chomping at the bit to read what I believe, but I genuinely think I bring a unique perspective as a Jewish student who has spent her life in Jewish day school and now attends this beautiful Methodist university. Keep reading, because I bet I’ll surprise you.

So here’s what I have to say: I love Christmas. I do not celebrate the holiday, nor do I know what really happens on Christmas day. Christmas to me is fantastic music, gifts, pretty lights, trees and a day to eat Chinese food and go to the movies (the latter is a Jewish stereotype, so don’t just assume all Jews do that). I am not educated about the real meaning of the holiday, but I have full respect for those who observe the day in its real purpose.

The “happy holidays” debate has a lot of facets, so let’s explore them, which will lead to the big reveal of my opinion.

First, I am fully aware that I live in the United States of America, an incredible country that has its roots in Christianity. Christmas is a national holiday: offices are closed, schools have break, stores and restaurants are closed. While it may not be observed/celebrated by all, it is undoubtedly still a piece of the American quilt. I believe everyone must acknowledge this history.

However, those who insist on saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone need to understand that not everyone celebrates or observes the holiday. In fact, some people have other holidays going on at the same time as Christmas, which often happens in the Jewish community (see my last article, “Your Guide to Hanukkah” for more information). Many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa towards the end of December. Then, of course, there’s Festivus for the rest of us (if you’ve never seen Seinfeld, you won’t get this one). Saying “Merry Christmas” to every person you see may not be offensive, but it shows that you do not care to learn about or acknowledge other religions or cultures besides the majority.

Here’s something to ponder: why is it SO important that people say “Merry Christmas?” Isn’t “happy holidays” just as festive and friendly? At its core, insisting upon only “Merry Christmas” is an attempt to maintain the status quo and prevent other religions that share this holiday season from becoming a big part of the American quilt. If you think that is an offensive and simplistic view of the situation, I highly recommend you analyze your own reasons for believing “Merry Christmas” is so important, and I bet that when you whittle it down, you’ll reach the same conclusion.

Now that I’ve sufficiently ground your gears, here’s what I believe. I couldn’t care less if you say “Merry Christmas.” Shout it from the Hilltop, say it to strangers in Snyder Plaza, post endless jolly elves on your Facebook page, use the Santa Claus filter on Snapchat. The reality remains that Christianity is the majority religion in this country, so there is a high likelihood that the stranger you tell “Merry Christmas” actually celebrates the holiday. But here’s the catch: if you know, or have a suspicion, that the person with whom you are interacting does not celebrate Christmas, just say “happy holidays.” If your suspicion was wrong, you'd get a “Merry Christmas” back. But if you were right, you’ll not only show the person with whom you are interacting that you acknowledge their faith, but you’ll prove you at least recognize the multi-cultural nature of today’s America.

Did I surprise you? As a Jew in America, I know the reality of the nation I live in, and I love this country. I love my own religion and belief system, with all its holidays (some more than others. Did you know Jews fast during ten different holidays throughout the year?) but I love witnessing other religions too. I enjoy celebrating when others want to celebrate. I enjoy benefiting from other people’s awesome holidays, just like I’m sure they appreciate my chocolate coins, fried potato pancakes and jelly donuts (seriously, look at “Your Guide to Hanukkah”). It is mine and everyone’s job in today’s converging world to learn about our fellow humans because we get closer and closer to each other every year and we need to make sure that closeness brings unity, not strife. 

So to all of you celebrating every holiday, Merry Chrismahanukwanzakah! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Festivus! Happy Hanukkah! And to all, a good night.


Image courtesy of The Inspiration Room