Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays; which is Correct?
Which is correct in the UK; Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?
I am asked this question regularly at this time of year, and I have been hesitant to write an article about it due to the religious connotation.
Before I begin, I would like to make a disclaimer that this article is not intended to offend anyone of non-Christian faith nor to trigger comments on religious opinions. It is written to help people understand the terminology, why it is such, and how to honour this and other religious celebrations from an etiquette point of view.
The answer is that it IS correct to wish others a Merry Christmas in the UK. However, this can cause some confusion for international people, as Happy Holidays is more commonly used in the USA.
Therefore, it’s helpful to understand why our greeting in the UK is different: So, The USA and the UK are recognised secular states (a country where the state is kept separate from religion), i.e., they do not discriminate or favour persons based on their religious beliefs.
However, the UK’s constitution requires the head of state to swear to protect the Church of England by taking the Coronation Oath. This oath, enacted in the late 17th century, is characteristic of religious and non-secular states.
As such, our public holidays are scheduled around the Christian faith calendar, so while not everyone celebrates these religious festivals, everyone in the UK is affected by them somehow.
So, what greeting should we extend when conversing with someone who does not appear to be of the Christian religion? Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?
Well, it’s important not to make assumptions. I know of ladies who have converted to Christianity, so if we are in doubt, we should apply the rule, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’
Therefore, when in the UK, we wish others Merry Christmas. However, you face a dilemma if you know the person is of a different faith or does not follow any religion. And so, the big question is, might you risk offending someone if you wish them Merry Christmas?
I believe it's the sentiment behind it which is the most important factor; for most of us, it's a gesture of goodwill, peace, and kindness, which can only be a good thing.
Put it this way; if I am wished a Happy Chinese New Year on 12 February or Happy Ramadan on 12 April, I will certainly not take offence; I will gladly receive the good wishes.
If the UK were to abolish Merry Christmas, then every person of every faith in this country would need to reciprocate. And what a shame that would be! Inclusiveness and acknowledging these celebrations are HOW we show respect, interest, and understanding in our multicultural society.
So, for those who wish to say “Merry Christmas,” it is absolutely fine to do so. For those who wish to say “Happy Holidays,” you are not committing an unforgivable British etiquette sin, but one thing I would like to mention is that the word holiday is derived from the word holy day…
Merry Christmas, my dear friends.
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