Saying "Merry Christmas" in the UK

While I wouldn’t take offense at an innocent mistake, I’m not really going to begrudge someone who isn’t Christian who gets tired of being wished Happy Christmas for the last 5 weeks of the year. I get tired of it too, however I’m willing to let it roll off my back. Depending on how I’m feeling that day I may or may not correct them. But if someone considers it rude I can understand it. If they snap back, so be it. Lack of ill intent only goes so far.

I’m sure there are plenty of Christians in the US who would be offended at being wished Happy Hanukkah. It doesn’t happen often so it hasn’t become an annual complaint.

In emails I’ve recently said “have a good Christmas!” I don’t think most non-Christians I know would object because it’s about the Christmas holidays, which is when we won’t be in contact due to bank holidays and general shutdowns. It’s meant to be more “have a good time off with multiple bank holidays and usually the tradition of contacting your family!”

Though I suppose if the person I was responding to had an obviously non-Christian name I might think twice. I’ll ask around - I don’t have the impression that being wished Merry Christmas is offensive to most non-Christians I know, but I could be wrong. I suspect it depends on the context.

Around here (melb.aus), most people simply assume that everybody is Australian and ‘Merry Christmas’ is standard if you are saying something. But we don’t do ‘have a nice day’ or other greetings as much as Europeans or Americans, so perhaps it’s less often.

(It’s not because they are specifically Christian: Australians also don’t object to having the days of the week named after Norse gods)

It’s so uncontroversial that we have ‘Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ in our company email signatures.

As others have said, Christmas has as much resonance as a winter/pagan/ancient times festival as it does a Christian one for most folks. EVERYTHING shuts on Christmas day - transport, shops, restaurants, so even non-Christians have to take the day off. Pubs often open for lunch but even then, they’ll only be serving Christmas dinner, so there’s really no escape from it.

Most non-Christians I know still put up a tree and have Christmas dinner. My hindu colleague even took her parents to midnight mass at the cathedral last year, out of sheer curiosity and to get into the Christmas spirit (they got bored and left half way through).

I flipflop between ‘Merry’ and ‘Happy’.

Another UK-er…and it’s always “merry Christmas” for me. Like the majority over here, it’s not an issue if you want to use “merry” or “happy” but it’s virtually unheard of to wish anyone “happy holidays”. Even our US members of staff don’t do it!

And FWIW, every presenter’s sign-off on one regular TV programme’s Christmas special last night was “Merry Christmas”, which is also the formulation in over half of the Christmas cards I’ve received (most of the rest are “Season’s Greetings” or some general reference to “the festive season” or similar).

Last year we celebrated Diwali in our office with decorations and takeaway curry. This year even the Christmas party was on Zoom. :frowning: But yes, everyone gets wished a happy or merry Christmas and only Americans say happy holidays. When we had a colleague from India visiting, he went off to Leicester to celebrate Eid, despite being a Hindu, so it looks like inclusivity is pretty popular there as well.

At my tiny (officially CoE sponsored) primary school, the many children of the Jehovah’s Witness family had the last week or two off school before Christmas (and the rest of us would have been jealous if we hadn’t been so sorry for them not getting any presents), but the two Hindu kids joined in with the nativity play and other events.

I live and work in NYC and I hear “Merry Christmas” way more than I hear “Happy Holidays” although I don’t know that it means people assume I’m Christian - I know an awful lot of non-Christians who celebrate Christmas

They may not be specifically Christian, but that isn’t evidence of it. I haven’t run into even the people here throwing fits about ‘happy holidays’ and going on about how they think this is or should be a ‘Christian Nation’ complaining about the names of the days of the week.

Of course, I don’t know whether they’ve got any idea of the origin of the weekday names; but I don’t know how many Australians do, either.

Yup. Like I said: ubiquitous and inescapable.

– it’s my impression, which might be wrong, that the UK has a lot fewer of the people going around trying to get beliefs of certain Christian sects enshrined into law (and in some cases succeeding). If that’s true, then I suspect that might be part of the reason if it’s also true that almost nobody in the UK feels anywhere between mildly annoyed and threatened by the entire country making a big deal of and shutting down for a Christian holiday, but not for any others.

i 'spect it’s to avoid repetition …

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year.

OP here. Thanks for the replies. No question then that this is a UK thing (and in several other UK-spawned nations as well).

FTR, there may have been one or two "Happy Christmas"es thrown in there, but “Merry Christmas” predominated. And when the team lead sent us work-related emails to check in before she left the office for a couple of weeks, she signed off on them with “Merry Christmas.”

And as luck would have it, I just got a nice note from a company in Ohio I do some work with. The subject line was…“Happy holidays”

?? In the UK, they already succeeded: from around the time of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. There was a lot of push back which continued for centuries: it’s one of the reasons the American constitution is the way it is, rather than like the UK, where there are religious representatives in the House of Lords.

Of course, in the UK, as historically in the USA, the ‘Christian sects’ were opposed to Christmas Holy Days and Christmas celebrations, so “Merry Christmas” is the civil influence in the Established Church, not the Church influence in the establishment.

We’re just not very religious (60% of the UK describe themselves as ‘not religious’ and regular church attendance hovers at around 5% of the population). But we like Christmas, a lot.

When did ‘Happy Holidays’ become the norm in the US?

It didn’t. Possibly ‘Happy Holidays’ is as common as ‘Merry Christmas’ now, but I kind of doubt that.

It’s not “the norm” in the sense of “most common”, but it’s been “normal” in the sense of ‘a common alternative’ for at least most of the past hundred years. Making a fuss about it is what’s new; that’s pretty much a 21st century thing.

The War of Words behind ‘Happy Holidays’ - HISTORY .

Actually, the original kerfluffle over the proper Yuletide greeting was in Victorian Britain. Found this on Cracked dot com, of all places: When Victorians Frowned On 'Merry Christmas': The Original 'War On Christmas' |

For those who don’t want to click on the link, the story is that religious Victorians tried to promote Happy Christmas over Merry Christmas, as “merry”, to them, connoted an unseemly raucousness - the word implied cruisin’, boozin’, perhaps even a bit of floozin’. (Think of Fezziwig’s Christmas ball from A Christmas Carol, for example.) “Happy” was a sober, restrained, family-friendly emotion. In 1916, the Chicago Tribune tried to introduce “Cheery Christmas”, which went nowhere.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the first commercially produced Christmas card (which read “Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year”) pretty much established “Merry” as the default greeting, but clearly “Happy Christmas” has held on.