Happy Holidays Sign

Happy Holidays Sign (Photo credit: ylacarmoberg)

I’m at Target. There are holiday decorations everywhere and I’m just completing my purchase. I smile at the woman at the register and say, “Happy Holidays!” as I take my purchase and she smiles back and returns the wish. I’m on my way out of the store, already thinking about the next thing I need to do, when I’m accosted by a random Target customer.

“Why’d you just wish that woman ‘Happy Holidays’?” she asks me. I have one of those moments when I’ve been lost in thought and no longer remember who I am, where I am or what month it is so it takes me a minute to even figure out what she’s talking about. The woman continues, “You should have wished her a ‘Merry Christmas’!”

“But I don’t know if she even celebrates Christmas,” I finally offer, baffled.

“It doesn’t matter! Christmas is under attack and every time you use Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, they win! Who got you started on that Happy Holidays crap anyway?”

“Catholic school.” 

She opens her mouth. She closes it again. She gives me a funny look. Impressively, I have somehow just become the weirdo in this conversation. Was she expecting me to say, “My Satan worship club?” It doesn’t look like she knows what to say so I take the opportunity to say, “Well, I need to run. Happy Holidays!” and leave the store.

And I swear to you, wishing her a Happy holidays was not my trying to be a jerk. See, I was telling that random woman the truth: I went to Catholic elementary school, a private religious school where we spent the holiday season saying… Happy Holidays. It’s so ingrained in me at this point, I say Happy Holidays on reflex starting with Thanksgiving.

We weren’t doing it because we were all atheists that hated Christmas and Christians because, duh, Catholic school. We weren’t doing it to make some kind of PC point. We were doing it because it takes too freaking long to write out or say, “Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!” over and over again so, even in a school where everyone was literally the same religion, Happy Holidays was the go to because it was shorter. It’s just plain efficient.

When I later went to a public high school and met people of other religions or no religion for the first time, I didn’t have to adjust anything. Happy Holidays is a wonderful, catch-all expression that works even when you have no clue what the other person celebrates. It lets you express good wishes without making it an awkward religious faux-pas. I remained a fan of the expression and kept it as my default even when I started my company. We use Happy Holidays on all our official verbiage and always have.

I’m mentioning this because, while the lady at Target sticks out as the most “in my face” of these moments, I have gotten a unusual amount of crud the last few years about saying Happy Holidays and I can’t help but think it’s related to this whole “War on Christmas” thing. Buyers have sent me nasty grams because my business emails say Happy Holidays instead of specifically mentioning Christmas. Acquaintances have “corrected” me that they’re Christian so it’s “wrong” to not wish them Merry Christmas. (Like I can remember what religion everyone is. I have enough trouble with names!) A small business owner I’m friendly with countered my wish of Happy Holidays with a rant about how she and I were alone so “we didn’t have to pretend to care about any other stupid religions” and could just wish each other Merry Christmas like “normal people.”

And, in what I thought was the saddest thing of all, a few years ago, when I doing some graphic design work for the very same Catholic school I attended as a child, I was scolded for writing Happy Holidays on a flyer because they “needed to take a stand” and make a point of saying Merry Christmas because they “could.” What alternate dimension have I stumbled into? When did Happy Holidays become such a charged expression?

Forget Christmas. How come no one’s talking about the War on Happy Holidays? What happened to the good old days when a business owner could use this nice, short expression to be respectful to their customers and fellow man without getting a hard time for it from random strangers? Do these who get up in my face about Happy Holidays even care that, for all they know, I may not even be Christian? Why does anyone think it’s acceptable to accost someone else for how they wish someone else well? Why is saying Happy Holidays suddenly a political statement?

Is it is game of who’s more religious than the next guy? Or is it just a “let’s give a big middle finger to everyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas”? In either case, I have zero interest in playing this game. I say Happy Holidays because I’m hoping that your holidays are happy, no matter what they are. That’s it. No political motives.

I don’t want to get into the larger debate of separation of church and state, I’m just talking about this on a small business and person to person level. Why ruin one of the nicest times of the year with idiotic bickering over who uses what words?