The other day a chipper fellow walked up to me and said, “Happy Hanukkah!” He smiled with satisfaction as he walked away. I stood there wondering why he would assume I was Jewish (I’m not. I’m Christian.) The greeting, although sincere, was inappropriate in that I do not celebrate Hanukkah, and was, therefore, also meaningless.
Which is the basis for my argument to those who insist that the only appropriate greeting at this time of year is “Merry Christmas” and not “Happy Holiday(s).” I believe the “Merry Christmas” push got its start with the “Keep Christ in Christmas” crowd, which is all fine and good. But there are limits, and knowing the person to whom one is giving the greeting is part of that limit. If you know that the person you’re greeting is Christian, then certainly a wish for a merry Christmas fits beautifully. But if you are uncertain about the person’s faith (or if he or she is a person of faith at all), then why would you feel that wishing that person a merry Christmas would be welcome? It would fall as flat on that person’s ears as the “Happy Hanukkah” wish fell on mine (which, by the way, didn’t really happen, but serves well as an illustration of my point).
Just how meaningful would “Merry Christmas” be to a Buddhist or Sikh or Jew? The greeting would actually be demeaned if offered to someone with no faith at all, since it could only be interpreted as a wish to enjoy the commercialized, hedonistic, materialistic manifestation that has become the widespread celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Shouldn’t “Christmas” be reserved as a reference to the celebration of the Savior’s birth? If we’re not going to infer the religious implication of the term, then a wish for an enjoyable holiday would be more appropriate.
On that basis, I have made it a practice to wish bank tellers, Walmart checkout people, neighbors I don’t know all that well, etc., etc., a happy holiday, allowing my greeting to be at the same time both sincere and applicable. I know that I can wish a merry Christmas to my pastor, my church friends, my blatantly Christian neighbors, etc. I feel that this approach preserves the integrity of my seasonal greetings while allowing those who receive them to appreciate the consideration behind them.
So, whichever category you fit into, all the best for a happy holiday season or a Merry Christmas. And, while I’m at it, a happy, healthy, and let’s-return-to-normal New Year.