on holidayspeak

Yesterday, I tweeted: “In response to someone wishing me a merry Christmas, I said it back instead of wishing him happy holidays. I hope no one reports me.”

As is usual for me, I neglected to be specific enough in 140 characters or less, and should have added a very important word to my tweet: accidentally. I did not think about saying “merry Christmas” in return; I just did it.

As I was raised Roman Catholic, I celebrated Christmas for many years, and during that time wished people a merry Christmas. I was a child, and did not consider my wish to be harmful or prejudiced. As I grew older, I understood the implications of forcing one’s religious preferences on others, and changed my language accordingly. Even when the words lost their religious meaning to me, I avoided saying them. I continue to be careful with my word choice around this time of year, especially at work.

Which is why it was so surprising to hear myself repeat “merry Christmas” after the patron said it yesterday. I cannot remember the last time I intentionally spoke those words, although I probably do without thinking to my mom and dad because that is how we greet each other on the phone when we talk on December 25th.

What do you think about holidayspeak? Did my knee-jerk response violate the rule of political correctness? Or did I respect his faith by responding in kind, even though I no longer share it? If he had mentioned Yule or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, would the same rule apply? How would you have responded without thinking?

8 thoughts on “on holidayspeak

  1. I do much the same, and most years I’ll wind up wishing at least one person a merry Christmas. Especially if it’s a knee-jerk response, I wouldn’t worry over political correctness or religious respect. Professional courtesy and your personal care with words are both powerful forces, and I’d be surprised if the former didn’t trump the latter now and then!

    Does your library have a policy on how to respond? I can’t recall that I’ve seen one…


    1. I’m glad it’s not just me! So far as library policy, the city has a strong
      commitment to diversity and tolerance, so although there is nothing in
      writing forbidding any of us from saying certain words, there is a general
      sense of remaining linguistically secular whenever possible.


  2. Anonymous

    I’m a pastor so I’m surrounded by people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ all the time and obviously I respond in kind. I don’t see any harm in sharing well-wishes whatever their form. My hindu friends tell me “Happy Diwali” and I say it right back. Even if I am not celebrating a particular holiday I can wish another person a pleasant celebration.

    I think the Focus on the Family people are absurd getting all hyper about people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. It is a meaningless argument. “Holiday” isn’t a secular word anyway – it means ‘holy day’. Doesn’t designate which holy day, or holy to whom, but it certainly isn’t a secular word. And even if it was? So what?

    By the same instance, we are probably worrying too much if we can’t just offer kind words from our own cultural upbringing without hours of analysis. Merry Christmas.


    1. You make excellent points, Aric. I especially appreciated this: “By the same
      instance, we are probably worrying too much if we can’t just offer kind
      words from our own cultural upbringing without hours of analysis.”

      Merry Christmas to you, too!


  3. i wish i could just say happy Christmas, but then some friend or another says ‘don’t you mean happy holidays some people don’t celebrate Christmas.’ so it’s turned into holidays for me

    but for me Christmas is what it’s all about, and instead of being snippy i’d love people to just say back to me happy hanukkah or whatever else feels special to them.

    but then I’m also good with happy baby jesus day, becuase o grew up with Christmas day being about joy and hope and carols and nativity scenes.


    1. I echo your sentiment about losing the snippiness. There is a great deal to
      be said for tolerating not only the differences between us but our
      individual abilities to accommodate everyone’s differences all the time.


  4. Anonymous

    the thing is, I don’t know that I’ve ever had anyone once respond badly if I’ve accidentally said “merry Christmas” instead of whatever other holiday one celebrates at the end of the year…it usually just ends with a joke by both parties and the true point (hey let’s be awesome to each other) is understood.

    I am a bit careful with cards though. Some people get the super-religious Christmas cards, some get a winter card with a nice photo, and some people (actually quite a lot) get the retro-themed N Judah cards. Those cards, though ,tend to be mailed late, and don’t always make it without a breakdown of sorts.


    1. I love the “hey let’s be awesome to each other” sentiment, and I feel like
      some PC-speak around the holidays obfuscates this. While I fully understand
      and support respectful dialogue between adults, I do not think that forcing
      people to say one phrase over another for fear of offending someone (anyone)
      is in the spirit of any season.

      I think we should accommodate each other in a reasonable manner, and forgive
      each other faults borne of honest feeling as opposed to prejudice. Of
      course, the argument can be made that in today’s society, we must apply
      stringent rules to communication because our general sense of ethics has

      Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful time of year. :o)


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