Words matter: it is, indeed, a very holiday

happy_everything2

It has become popular in certain circles to characterize wishing someone “Happy Holidays” as denying Christmas, as if anyone who says anything other than “Merry Christmas” intends to denigrate Christianity.

It’s always dangerous to impute motives. It’s a fact: none of us are mind-readers. All we can do is observe and evaluate behavior.

In fact, it’s quite likely the origin of the phrase came not from a politically-correct desire to include non-Christian holidays such as Kwanzaa and Chanukah, but rather to include a number of Christian holidays that occur close together: Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Stephens Day, Epiphany, and New Year’s Day (all of which have a history of celebration within Christian circles).

Yes, it is also handy for recognizing that many groups celebrate the time of the year. But it does nothing to take away from Christmas.

Consider these disparate facts related to this:

  1. The word “holiday” is simply a version of “holy day.” Where do you think that word originated in English?
  2. Much of the tradition we associate with Christmas actually comes from pagan tradition. This is probably not news to anyone, and there are groups of Christians who resist these traditions just because of that.
  3. There are Christian traditions that do not celebrate Christmas at all. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t recognize holidays at all. I grew up in a different group that takes the Bible very literally. As a family, we celebrated Christmas strictly as a cultural holiday (emphasis on Santa, tree, gift-giving, etc.) but refrained from anything about the birth of Christ. (Again, it’s likely not news to a lot of Christians that Dec. 25 almost certainly is NOT the date of Christ’s birth, but simply the day the birth is celebrated. If it is news, check the Internet.) My old spiritual family often now does take part in religious celebrations of the day, without getting tied up in the debate of the accuracy of the date.
  4. Even the etymology of the word “holy” is richer and more complex than people realize.
  5. People who do say “Merry Christmas” may be practicing atheists simply recognizing a cultural tradition. Just as such an expression does not honor Christ, saying “Happy Holidays” does not dishonor Christ or Christianity.

It strikes me that griping about “Happy Holidays” bear more relationship to the spirit of Scrooge than the spirit of Jesus. Do we really need something else to add stress to what is supposed to be a most joyful time of the year?

In any case, I wish you joy in whatever activity you do or don’t engage in this week (and next).

What about you? Is it more important to get the phraseology right? Or to connect with people?

Share this, please!
Share

Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.