Merry Christmas

I’ve read a few pieces over the last week or so about why North Americans are torn by the phrase “Merry Christmas”, many preferring “Happy Holidays”. Yet the latter has never remotely caught on in the British Isles.

The most compelling reason given for this is that where the North Americans (particularly in the United States) have retained “Christmas” as very much being exclusively for “Christians”, the British and Irish have turned it into a broader festival which can be celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike (while ensuring that Christians themselves do not lose the aspects of it that are genuinely important and exclusive to them). Thus it is perfectly appropriate in the British Isles to wish someone “Merry Christmas” without that implying an assumption that the recipient of the greeting is Christian.

It strikes me, honestly, that the British and Irish have this right. So as a quick thought (maybe to be turned to in more detail in the New Year), how do we make festivals and leisure activities which are currently deemed specific to one group less specific to that group? How do we make currently exclusive events and sports inclusive, without losing their original meaning for those to whom that meaning is important? Perhaps that is really the question Richard Haass should have been asking?

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings

Like I say, just a quick thought for now – whatever your religious view, here’s wishing you and yours a merry Christmas, god Jul, Nollaig Shona, frohe Weihnachten, feliz navidad and indeed vrolijk Kerstfeest.


3 thoughts on “Merry Christmas

  1. Ian, Many thanks for all your thoughtful, and invariably thought provoking, posts this year, and biddin ye an yours, a blythe yuletide an a guid new yeir! Maurice

  2. This American thinks you’re being disingenuous with British/Irish tolerance. In America, with its establishment of religious freedom and separation of church and state, we respect everyone’s right to mark and celebrate whatever religious holidays they want. You say this means that “Happy Christmas” is for Christians only and in this way this is true.

    But in the British Isles you don’t make an argument how “Happy Christmas” is meant as a secular statement. Could it be that in a land where the head of state is also the head of the church, and with a distinct Christian heritage, “Happy Christmas” could be inferred as a statement of dominant will, i.e. non-Christians should just smile and nod as they are bombarded with this holiday statement? How would you feel if you were somewhere where everyone was wishing you a merry Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr?

    Of course I know that “Happy Christmas”, whether expressed in the British Isles or North America, is an expression of good will and cheer.

    To end on a light note, just the other day, leaving my niece’s basketball game here in Florida, the coach wished one of her teammate’s a “Merry Christmas” as she walked away with her parents. No response. Immediately my niece whispered to the coach, “She’s Jewish.” We laughed.

    Happy Holidays to one and all.

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