American Culture

3 Reasons People Say “Happy Holidays,” Instead of “Merry Christmas”


This time of year, you see fuzzy red and white Santa hats, Christmas trees and other festive decorations. For many Americans, Christmas is the big December holiday. So why is the common trend to say, “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?

There are actually several important reasons why it’s popular to say “happy holidays”:

  1. It’s more inclusive of other December religious or cultural holidays,
  2. Not everyone celebrates Christmas,
  3. And it also covers the New Year holiday too.

Want to learn more? Keep reading so you can better understand this aspect of American culture.

1.     Other religious or cultural holidays

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The USA is very diverse. That means other religious or cultural holidays tend to happen in December too. If you’re unsure if someone celebrates a particular holiday, using the expression “Happy holidays” is an inclusive option that doesn’t leave anyone out.

In particular, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are the two other December holidays that groups of people celebrate.

About Hanukkah (pronounced Hah-nuh-KUH)

Hanukkah (sometimes spelled Chanukah) is a Jewish holiday that lasts 8 days and nights. Because Hanukkah is based on the Hebrew calendar, its start date varies year to year – usually late November to sometime in December.

The holiday is about celebrating and paying respect to the dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Just like a decorated tree represents Christmas, a menorah, or a candle holder with nine candles, represents Hanukkah.

About Kwanzaa (pronounced KWAN-zuh)

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration that honors African heritage. From December 26 through January 1, African-Americans celebrate by wearing colorful clothing, feasting with loved ones and lighting candles in a kinara, or traditional candle honor.

Kwanzaa was created in 1965 specifically so African-Americans would have their own holiday. Be careful about wishing someone a “Joyous Kwanzaa.” It’s safer to say “Happy holidays” because you don’t know if the person celebrates Kwanzaa – or if they’re even of African descent.

2.     Not everyone celebrates Christmas

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Christmas has strong religious importance for many Christians here, because they consider it the birthday of Jesus Christ. Some Christians even think it’s offensive to say, “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

But for the most part, Americans tend to be more easygoing. Plenty of Americans simply view Christmas as a chance to spread cheer, without any religious meaning whatsoever. It’s simply a time to share gifts, spend time with loved ones and rejoice in traditions, such as decorating a Christmas tree together.

For others, Christmas isn’t something they celebrate at all. So saying “Happy holidays” is a more general way to wish someone well this time of year.

3.     Happy New Year

Happy New Year
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Regardless of religion or cultural tradition, most Americans celebrate the new year. Like other cultures around the world, the new year is about celebrating hope and the future. By saying “Happy holidays,” you include this fun holiday too.

Popular activities include attending a New Year’s Eve party or watching the ball drop on TV. One custom you should be aware of is kissing someone as it turns midnight. There’s no pressure to kiss anyone if you don’t want to – it’s just good to know in advance that it’s a tradition so you’re not surprised.

What about you?

What do you celebrate, and how do you do it? Do you have any funny or interesting stories about wishing someone a merry Christmas? Share your thoughts in the comments.

And whatever is important to you this time of year, we wish you happy holidays!

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