Happy Fill in the Blank

I’m a curious person and random questions often pop in my head. Recently our team was delivering Holiday cards and everyone on the team was saying Merry Christmas. I usually default to Happy Holidays. Sure, I’m in Human Resources and people expect me to be ‘politically correct’, but recently I read a great post that was enlightening to me. The real reason to say Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas is all about respect. There are a lot of holidays that people celebrate in December and January and how can I possibly know who celebrates what. Even if the vast majority celebrate Christmas, there are enough people who prefer to celebrate something else during this time to warrant Happy Holidays versus the more specific Merry Christmas.


That got me to thinking about how in the UK and Ireland, the saying is Happy Christmas.  I simply had to research the origin of these differences. I’m gonna share that research with y’all because I know you are on the edge of your seat waiting on the answer!


As always there were various theories on this and I’m going to share them all:

  • “Merry Christmas” has been used since at least 1534. The phrase was used in a letter from bishop John Fisher to Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Around the same time, the English carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” was introduced.
  • Another site noted that in 1699 an English admiral first used the term Merry Christmas (also in a letter). Hmmm…guess they hadn’t heard about the first letter!
  • In 1843, Charles Dickens used the phrase. Merry Christmas in A Christmas Carol and in that same year the first Christmas Card came out with the same saying!
  • Regarding the reasons for Happy versus Merry, apparently “happy” was believed to take on a higher class connotation than “merry,” which was associated with those rowdy lower classes. Since the royal family adopted “Happy Christmas” as their preferred greeting, others took note, and it stuck.

  • You’re going to love this theory….some historians believe it boils down to a simple grammatical lesson. “Happy” is a word that describes an emotion, while “merry” is a behavior descriptor (see above comments regarding the raucous lower classes). For example, “merry-making” versus simply “being happy.”


I’ve always loved Happy Christmas because it was something different when I first heard that phrase. Regardless of how everyone chooses to wish others good tidings, I believe the most important thing to remember is to embrace diversity. Assume good intentions and don’t presume that there is only one version of wishing someone well during the holiday season or that a particular version the “right” one.


Regardless of how you choose to celebrate this time of year, I hope the season brings you peace and joy. If you happen to enjoy cozying up with a good book, feel free to check out a few of mine.

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