Happy Holidays?

It’s that time of year again when Americans worry about whether saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays is more likely to cause offence. Luckily, that’s not a problem we have in Britain as most people, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof, celebrate at least the commercial aspect of the holiday or indulge in catering towards that aspects, meaning almost everyone is happy to wish or receive the wishes of Merry Christmas. Of course, we do have that standby of Seasons Greetings, but rather than being a replacement for Merry Christmas, which is generally reserved for close proximity to the holiday itself, it is used to encapsulate the entire period of pre-Christmas build-up, Christmas and New Year.

Of course, things are a little easier in Britain as, despite the attempts of retailers to open sales earlier each year, Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated and, thus, doesn’t serve as an opening to an extended festive period. Thus, there is little sense that we should be greeting people too far ahead of the festival itself and a clearer link with Christmas rather than an overlap with other festivals or an undefined period of festivity, removing much of the ambiguity that affects Americans in more cosmopolitan areas of their nation.

So, the question of whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays is not one Britons are likely to face and often feel rather bemused by, when Americans engage in vociferous debate. However, there is one aspect of the question that I find telling. The excuse given by those who favour Happy Holidays is that they do not want to offend non-Christians by wishing them the ‘wrong’ seasonal greeting. Now, normal people won’t take offence by someone offering felicitations, even if they are not relevant to their beliefs and anyone who does take such needless offence should best be ignored as unpleasant. Yet, despite professing such concern for the feelings of others, it seems those in the Happy Holidays camp are incapable of actually ascertaining what holiday someone celebrates, nor of resisting to offer greetings to those they have no such awareness of (surely the safest course, if you are scared of causing offence?). In fact, most appear to be avoiding any reference to religion on the basis that they are not religious, rather than out of any feeling for those they are greeting – in which case, perhaps, they should just be honest and avoid any reference at all to the festivities. Yes, a ‘bah, humbug’-seeming approach might offend some, but so does the Happy Holidays compromise. But, then, Americans do seem to have an obsession with extending such greetings to all and sundry, whereas, in Britain, such greetings are likely to be restricted to friends and family and a few close contacts.

It would be nice, though, if all those involved in the debate, on both sides, would expend a little less energy on arguing about how to greet one another at Christmastime and put some of that effort into actually doing some good in the world. I doubt the homeless are that worried about how they are greeted (should anyone deign to greet them at all) and would much prefer some practical assistance.

Doubtless, it is a debate we will have to suffer again next year, but, as far as I’m concerned, I do not wish to be wished an insincere Happy Holidays and will be glad to see this controversy remain on the far side of the Atlantic. To everyone who wants one, a Merry Christmas, and to all of you, all the best for 2016.

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