Fear not the words ‘Merry Christmas’

Today’s N&R column is about my personal crusade to relegate the phrase “Happy Holidays” to the junkpile of arcane linguistics.

I really apologize for and regret my sporadic postings these last several weeks.  I’m still a dedicated blogger and truly miss writing on a daily basis and will get back to it soon enough.  Meanwhile, keep up with the local blogosphere via Greensboro101.com.  There is a lot going on out there.


By David HoggardN&R mast_1_27.jpg


This won’t hurt a bit.  I promise.
I wish you a Merry Christmas!

If I’ve offended you with my greeting, please accept my apologies.  But I’ll bet you a secret Santa gift that I didn’t no matter who you are or what religion you are, or aren’t.

For the past several years, since the onslaught of political correctness, Thanksgiving Day has been the start of my personal crusade against the phrase “Happy Holidays�.
Every time someone offers up that generic, dry, no-real-meaning greeting, I’ll unabashedly respond with “…and a Merry Christmas to you�.  Although every now and again someone looks at me a little askew because of my unexpected response, the vast majority say thank you and go on about his or her day.

Now and again, if the person on the receiving end of my now-rarely-uttered phrase grew up like me – not ever hearing any other seasonal greeting, they may respond with, “…well now, that’s nice to hearâ€?.

Of course, what they might really mean is “I wish I had the guts to say that.�

Seems as though we have been so conditioned by the PC crowd to not offend anyone that we’ve arrived at a place where we offend our own sensibilities with our own words.
My season’s greeting is not intended as an insult or to disparage anyone or any belief.  It really isn’t.  I just truly dislike the phrase “Happy Holidays�. 

‘Merry Christmas’ means something.  ‘Habari Gani?’ means something.  ‘Happy Hanukkah� means something.

But when I hear ‘Happy Holidays’ it says little more to me than, “I hold neither traditions nor beliefs dear and don’t think you should either, but I hope your few days off of work are pleasant�.

Here’s how I see it:  Were a Jewish man to greet me with “Happy Hanukkahâ€? I would not be offended in the least – it is a proper greeting and I have been pleased to receive it every time it has been offered.  Should a Kwanzaa celebrant greet me with â€?Habari Gani?â€?, I simply offer my traditional greeting, and just go right on.

Over the years a few people have suggested that my “Merry Christmas� greeting might be insensitive to non-Christians.  A simple question usually points out the folly of their concerns.

“Should a Jewish stranger greet you with Happy Chanukah�, I’ll inquire, “would you be offended and consider the greeter insensitive?�  Everyone, of course, responds that they would not.

When I’ll ask, conversely, why it is then they believe a Jew, Muslim, or Buddhist (or atheist for that matter) would be offended by the traditional Christmas greeting, their answer is usually , “I never thought about it that way?�

The few times anyone has responded to my ‘Merry Christmas’ with, “I don’t celebrate Christmas� or similar indignation, I’ll simply apologize and wish them  ‘Happy Holidays’.  They’ll thank me and we’ll both go on with our lives.  No foul, no penalty.

So the next time someone says to you, ‘Happy Holidays’, don’t respond in kind.  Join my crusade and offer up what you believe.  Wish them a ‘Merry Christmas’ or whatever greeting your traditions hold dear and let the chips fall where they may.

You’ll be pleased to find that the person you are greeting isn’t nearly as thin-skinned and shallow as you have been led to believe by the purveyors of political correctness.

So, again, with gusto:  I wish you a Merry Christmas.  Whatever your seasonal greeting is for me, I’ll appreciate it.

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  1. Keith
    Posted December 20, 2006 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone and may you have a “Gratified Upcoming Twelve-Month Period”, too!

  2. Posted December 20, 2006 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Merry Holidays, Hogg, to you and yours. Heck, I do a red & green Merry Christmas sig line this time of year. It’s fun.

  3. Posted December 20, 2006 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Merry Christmas to you as well, David!

    “Seems as though we have been so conditioned by the PC crowd to not offend anyone that we’ve arrived at a place where we offend our own sensibilities with our own words.”

    I often wonder whether it’s the “PC crowd” that is doing the conditioning, or the members of the conservative, anti-pc crowd who are running around yelling about how there’s a war on Christmas. Seems to me they may be at least as responsible for making people think that “Merry Christmas” may be viewed as an offense.

  4. Posted December 20, 2006 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the nudge David. Recently, I have weakly uttered “Happy Holidays” and felt empty about saying it. Right before your column I again stuck out my chest and stated “Merry Christmas” and it really felt good. Although I couldn’t care less about the 0.0002% of the crowd who promotes “political correctness” it was refreshing to see that you felt the same way I did about “Merry Christmas”. I enjoy your blog although I certainly don’t always agree with you.

  5. Posted December 20, 2006 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I swear, between you anti-”Happy Holidays” and anti-”Merry Christmas” language vigilantes you are managing to squeeze every last drop of joy out of Christmas for us folks in the middle who don’t give a happy hoot what people say as long as it’s not rude and nasty.

    I’m sorry that you are harbouring paranoid doubts about whether people who wish you well really mean it. I can’t control other people’s reactions to my wishing them happiness. If I slip up and wish you “happy holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” you’ll just have to go on thinking whatever you wish about my real feelings. You’ll have to take my word for it that it is not dry and meaningless for me.

    Honestly, do we need more division in this country? At Christmas?

  6. Gene Hoggard
    Posted December 20, 2006 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    When I express to anyone- the time, the day, the month, the year, or the season- who is a member of the human race, it is one of my freedoms to do so. It is called FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!!!. If that anyone is offended by my salutation, greeting or wish, the problem becomes theirs and not mine. All of the superficial greetings, wishes, etc. that we hear and say, can be as offensive to some as, for instance, Merry Christmas. This political correctness BS is just another way of saying-Excuse me for being an American. This USA was based and formed on certain freedoms, which, one by one, are gradually being frowned upon or challenged. I have often stated that our American freedoms will be our downfall, and many of them(freedoms) are being challenged; so for God’s sake, if you want to say “MERRY CHRISTMAS”, let’r rip. Let the problem become someone else’s, not yours.

    I’ll get off my soap box David.

  7. Posted December 21, 2006 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    I doubt that, Dad.


    I don’t mean to cause any divisiveness, I just don’t like the phrase “Happy Holidays” because it’s rise to prominence has little to do with people’s sentiments and traditions and a lot to do with the rise of political correctness.

    As I said, I appreciate any greeting I receive including “Happy Holidays”, I just wish it hadn’t come to the place where some people audibly gasp when I greet them with “Merry Christmas”.

  8. Eric Baumholder
    Posted December 21, 2006 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    University PressWire (UPR)
    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    Hand Gesture Conveys New Message

    Sociologists at the University of Okoboji have determined that the meaning of a hand gesture common in North America has undergone a recent, dramatic shift. Semioticians, who study signs and symbols, and how their meanings are constructed and understood, have theorized the possibility of what is called “sudden denotative shift,” but only a few considered it a real possibility.

    “We have vindicated the SDS (sudden denotative shift) theory,” said Peter Watson, a member of the UO research team that conducted the study. “These new findings should open up completely new avenues for research.”

    Watson likens his team’s efforts to recent work in evolution, which had long been thought to move so slowly as to be nearly undetectable. “Just as Hoffman at Melbourne showed a species can evolve in as little as 20 years, we have shown that the meaning of a gesture can evolve–but even faster,” Watson said.

    Watson was referring to the work of Ari Hoffman at the Center for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who determined that the Australian fruit fly had adapted to global warming in the last 20 years. His findings were published in the journal Science.

    James Pike, a statistician and member of Watson’s research team, said that gestures, like languages, were also assumed to move very slowly. “Population dynamics and stable communication media, such as the printed word, audio and video recording, were thought to make SDS nearly impossible,” Pike says. “Their value as media depend on a stable substrate of meaning. However, meanings are constructed by humans as an abstract process, making them susceptible to nearly arbitrary changes.”

    To ensure the objectivity and quantifiability of their study, Pike and Watson, along with a group of student volunteers from UO, collected data on the frequency of a gesture involving the use of a raised middle finger at local shopping malls and parking lots during the year, and correlated the data against weather variables, times of day, days of the week, and finally, to days of the year.

    “The strongest statistical association between use of the RMF (raised middle finger) came out in the final correlation,” Watson said. “In fact, time of the year was the only statistically significant correlation with changes in the rate of the [RMF] gesturing.”

    Because of this, the researchers conclude that use of the RMF no longer denotes “opprobrium or disrespect,” but something more positive in meaning. “Use of the RMF now actually denotes, or conveys, ‘Happy Holidays’ in the most general sense,” Pike says. The gesture was found to have a generic meaning, rather than an association with a particular sectarian holiday, during follow-up interviews with gesturers. The RMF was used in nearly equal proportions by Christians, Jews, Wiccans and atheists.

    Watson does not believe this signals a wider cultural use of the RMF. “Since the RMF now denotes ‘Happy Holidays,’” he says, “we predict that its use will merely become increasingly more prevalent during the holiday season.”


  9. Posted December 21, 2006 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Well, David, that is exactly my point. Wishing someone well, no matter what specific words you use, should not be still another source of stress at an already stressful time of year for many people. If I don’t know you, then why should I now have to hesitate and try to read your mind to see what greeting might offend you when all I want to do is wish you well?

    “Happy Holidays” is inclusive. “Merry Christmas” is less so. Who cares if it is politically correct? I don’t care about which one you use, as long as you’re not giving me a RMF with it. Wish me “Happy Hannukah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” – I DON’T CARE. Being nice should not be stressful to either person. Period. Don’t add to making Christmas a political holiday, please.