Hasn't the sentiment always been Happy Holidays - to include Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's? Even in the "good old days" remembered fondly by some folks, pre-political correctness, people talked about "the holidays" and "the season," and they meant these three. Using this generic holidays greeting was just being efficient.
But two things have happened since then. One, we have looked around and realized that not everyone observes Christmas plus there are other holidays being celebrated at this time of year, for instance Hanukkah, Kwanza and the Winter Solstice. (Don't groan. My nephew got married on the winter solstice - now his anniversary keeps jumping back and forth between Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.) Sometimes Ramadan falls in there, too, and let's not forget the popular Scandinavian celebrations for Santa Lucia Day and Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, in early November. Two, more and more Americans with Christian heritage are not religious, so they don't celebrate that aspect but rather the concepts attributed to it: Peace on earth, good will to man.
Do we really ever say "Happy Holidays" to anyone? Usually we say "Merry Christmas" right on Christmas or maybe a few days before. I wouldn't say "Merry Christmas" to someone today even if I were wearing my Christmas earrings. I might say "Have a good Christmas." When I visit friends and relatives on Christmas Eve and Christmas, then I say "Merry Christmas."
"Happy Holidays" is more often written than said. I ordered Christmas cards from the World Wildlife Fund and had to choose both the design and the sentiment. I was first attracted to the darling face of a sleeping polar bear cub. I also liked one with a mother penguin gazing down at her baby who was wearing a Santa hat and was just too cute. Then I remembered the cards would be from both my husband and me so I decided cute wouldn't cut it and I ordered the card with cranes marching against a wintry background. The message reads: "May your holidays be merry and bright!" Because I want my friends' entire holiday season to be merry and bright - not just Christmas.
Who uses the term "Happy Holidays" most? Public institutions such as the Town of Danville with its Holiday Tree Lighting and its Elf Workshop - and of course stores with their holiday offerings and holiday sales. Stands to reason that retail businesses would want to be inclusive - it might attract more customers. Since this is mandatory for staying in business, I certainly can't criticize them for reaching out to everyone. Although, gifts are mostly given for Christmas, not Thanksgiving or New Year's, so maybe the "three-holidays-in-one" argument doesn't apply.
A poll by Rasmussen Reports shows that 67 percent of American adults like stores to use the phrase "Merry Christmas" in their seasonal advertising rather than "Happy Holidays." In its telephone survey, Rasmussen found that only 26 percent preferred the latter. This was across the board with males and females although it differed along political lines. While 88 percent of Republicans preferred "Merry Christmas," 57 percent of Democrats did. It didn't provide an age breakdown.
Christmas is an official national holiday in the United States, and the courts backed it up when it was challenged as a violation of the separation of church and state. The ruling, in 1999, was that it was not in violation because it has valid secular aspects that the courts have repeatedly recognized, including holly, ivy, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, snowmen, jingling bells and presents on Christmas morning. All of these contribute to the Christmas season. And the holidays.
Let's appreciate the spirit when someone says Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah (even if we don't celebrate them) or Happy Holidays. No one is trying to proselytize and no one is trying to dilute the holiday. They're just trying to be nice. Now please pass the eggnog.