In defence of “Merry Christmas”

McGill Tribune

“Happy Holidays!” Well, “bah, humbug” to you, too. Yes, that’s right: the politically correct platitude, “Happy Holidays” rides in the same sleigh as cranky old Ebenezer Scrooge. And just like Dickens’s notorious misanthrope, “Happy Holidays” stifles the unbridled kindness that the season brings, turning the once popular phrase, “Merry Christmas” into the unlikely ghost of Christmas-past. We believe that everyone has much to gain from a resurrection of this ghost through wishing each other a “Merry Christmas” once more.

“Merry Christmas” is as crucial to Christmas as the Star of David is to the nativity story. The Three Kings relied upon that star as they braved the cold desert night in search of Nazareth. Imagine how disappointed they would have felt if that star had suddenly disappeared. That is how we feel about the disappearance of “Merry Christmas” at the hands of overzealous cultural sensitivity. The egg has left our eggnog; the tinsel has been torn from our trees. A tradition evoking the childhood nostalgia of gingerbread, carols and snow angels has begun to lose its way like Santa without Rudolf’s red nose.

Leaving aside hyperbolic overtures about the commercial cult and religious symbolism of Christmas, we believe that “Merry Christmas” communicates something that “Happy Holidays” is unable to do. The former gestures unconditional goodwill, while the latter blandly and unsuccessfully attempts to appease cultural sensitivity.

Christmas asks us to overcome self-involvement and be kind to others. Scrooge, perhaps the most self-involved and egotistical character imaginable, is compelled at Christmas-time to think of someone other than himself. The power of the Christmas story lies in giving to others and acting on compassion, charity, decency, kindness, and (yes, we’ll say it) love. Christmas is about showing appreciation for those who are important to you. “Merry Christmas” is the articulation of this time of year and this feeling.

And what does “Happy Holidays” articulate? Linguistically, holiday derives from “holy day”—surely not what the ideologues of the political correctness doctrine were hoping for. Socially, holidays are understood to be vacations. Nobody really does anything during the holidays. Perhaps you go skiing or perhaps you slob on the couch watching re-runs of Friends and eating far too much Ben & Jerry’s. A holiday, however, is certainly not characteristically a moment of community and coming together. In fact, we would tend to think of a happy holiday as a self-indulgence—the polar opposite to the philosophy of Christmas.

The Christmas spirit does not have to be a Christian one; it does not even have to be a religious one. It transcends theology and focuses our attention on the value of personal relationships, a feature of life always in need of improvement. Christmas is not about presents; it is not about tinsel, gingerbread or snow angels. Christmas is about shared moments, from a father teaching his daughter to make a snow angel to soldiers taking a break from trench warfare to play some soccer together, and—dare we suggest—to administrators bringing hot chocolate to MUNACA strikers outside in the snow. 

So this year, we will wish you a “Merry Christmas” because it means more than “Happy Holidays,” and because it is part of who we are. If you decide to reply with “bah, humbug,” then fair enough. And if in October you wish us a “Happy Diwali,” then “Happy Diwali to you, too.” Let’s embrace the best of our cultures, not side-step them.


Richard Martyn-Hemphill is an exchange student from the University of Edinburgh. 

Marco Garofalo is a 

McGill Law student.

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