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December 05, 2005

Yummy Yule! (or: Why Does Bill O'Reilly Hate Hanukkah?)

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

To defend the obvious - a favorite activity among contemporary philosophers - I'll reveal the unobjectionableness of "Happy Holidays!" and "Merry Christmas!" through a semantic analysis. December 25 is Christmas, and the holidays of many peoples occur in the surrounding times. The sentiment expressed by either of these utterances is the speaker's wish for the listener’s happiness or merriment during these periods. This is a sentiment that none should take ill – after all, happiness and merriment in late December are good things, even for Hindu-raised atheists like myself.

This does nothing to make the “Merry Christmas!”-instead-of-“Happy Holidays!” movement any less creepy. “Happy Holidays!” manages to cover Hanukkah, New Year, and various other holidays as well. What does “Merry Christmas!” have to recommend it? Well, it does include the word “Merry”, which is cool in an old-fashioned kind of way. Now, if the merryness of “Merry” were the central argument of the anti-“Happy Holidays!” faction, I would accord them more respect. Sadly, their actual arguments are rooted in an appreciation for trivial forms of religious domination. It's fine to have forms of religious domination this trivial, but it's wrong to desire them.

(The whole issue is, of course, a right-wing attempt to fan the flames of the culture war and generate more of the Matter With Kansas.)

December 5, 2005 in Religion | Permalink


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Tracked on Dec 5, 2005 8:36:21 AM


The Brits, I believe, say "Happy Christmas." So I don't think that the word "merry" really has all that much going for it.

Of course, my main evidence for this is the Harry Potter movies, take it with a grain of salt.

As a student of a conservative seminary, I have taken it upon myself to only say "happy holidays," unless someone tells me "merry Christmas" first.

Posted by: Stephen | Dec 5, 2005 1:16:35 AM

Hmm, so it has to be an archaic word then, or an arhaic usage at least? Ah ha! I have the perfect greeting both sides can support:

Have a Gay Christmas!

Posted by: aPantomimeHorse | Dec 5, 2005 4:04:14 AM

Now that is a true bon mot !

Posted by: opit | Dec 5, 2005 10:39:48 AM

It's anti-semitic. It's xenophobic. It's "your'e with us or against us" taken to another level. It's making it OK (again) to hate people that aren't like you. It's intolerant and insensitive. In the words of Rodney King - "Why can't we all just get along?"

Posted by: fasteddie | Dec 5, 2005 10:46:58 AM

Living as I have almost entirely in coastal-metropolitan areas my entire life, I don't know how often the rest of the country hears the term "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" vs. "Season's Greetings." What I'm starting to think is that the insistent use of "Happy Holidays" is a coastal affectation, and the rest of the country gets whipped up into a fever over it by the professional rabble-rousers who are from those limited areas.
Where I grew up, there is/was a conscious effort to scrub references to Christmas. Now, this is in part because there are much larger non-Christian communities in NJ as opposed to, say, Kansas, and the the risks of a retailer or employer alienating his clientele by associating his business specifically with Christmas is very real. However, the linguistic hoops that people go through in order to avoid saying "Christmas" in public verges on the embarassing. There's just an awkwardness about it where it appears as though figures in popular culture seem to celebrate "The Holidays" while the rest of the country celebrates Christmas, Hannukah, New Year's, St. Nicholas Day, etc. I'd almost prefer that the public be left alone to celebrate their holiday of choice in peace rather than be subjected to the media's insistence that everyone participate in "The Holidays(tm)."

Posted by: Constantine | Dec 5, 2005 11:03:46 AM

In department stores and the like, I don't see how anyone could use anything other than Happy Holidays. Its not a matter of removing x-mas, its a matter of being inclusive. Anyone who gets offended by Happy Holidays has bigger problems than that.

Posted by: Adrock | Dec 5, 2005 11:41:39 AM

And not to be too cynical, but 'Happy Holidays' (note the plural) gives retailers cover for starting the shopping season before Thanksgiving and extending it to New Year's. As in many things American business is motivated much less by PCness than in ka-ching in the till.

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Dec 5, 2005 1:09:54 PM

I don't think it's a coincidence that at a time when the right-wing machine is in more trouble then ever, there is a sudden need to "defend" Christmas. I imagine if Karl Rove were on the cusp of getting arrested in May, Bill O'Reilly would have to defend rainbows and ice cream cones from George Soros.

The right-wing regularly tries to politicize popular non-political things to hide its agenda. The fate of football, NASCAR, and Christmas have nothing to do with giving large donors the laws they want. In order to give large donors the laws they want, the right-wing will try to glom onto the popularity of football, NASCAR, and Christmas. Making the choice of saying "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" a political act demeans Christmas. I hope most people recognize that.

Posted by: American Citizen | Dec 5, 2005 3:00:28 PM

fasteddy : I'm reaching and not getting it. I'd suggest a valium but want to give you a fair hearing. To what are you referring ? Public attitudes vary wildly by location and era ; things do change. Let me have it.

Posted by: opit | Dec 5, 2005 3:27:43 PM

I recommend David Neiwert's posting here, which is mostly about WWII-era Nazi sympathizers in the US, but here's the end:

And perhaps it's worth remembering, as well, that we've heard complaints similar to O'Reilly's current jihad about non-Christians wanting to "do away" with Christmas before. Long before. Why, back in the 1930s, none other than Henry Ford was making nearly identical complaints:

"And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards."

Where was this text located? Why, in The International Jew, of course.

Posted by: DonBoy | Dec 5, 2005 3:47:24 PM

I posted an etiquette guide on my blog (which is unavailable at this moment because Blogspot seems to be down, so I can't link directly to the post--but it's at the top). The gist of it is: when in doubt, err on the side of consideration for the sensitivities of others; and err on the side of not taking offense.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 5, 2005 8:12:54 PM

...err on the side of consideration for the sensitivities of others; and err on the side of not taking offense.

It is what it is, dufus.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!! to all. This is the day of celebration of the coming of the Christ, the savior of the world. MERRY CHRISTMAS to all!! (get used to it).

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 5, 2005 10:32:57 PM

as a hindu-raised atheist myself, i say hats off to you Neil!

Posted by: anon | Dec 5, 2005 11:56:21 PM

I was using "Happy Holidays" before it was cool.

First, its the polite thing to say. When you're wishing someone a happy something, you are wishing them a happy whatever-it-is THEY are celebrating, as in "happy birthday". Therefore its rude to wish someone a happy watever-it-is that YOU YOURSELF are celebrating. (Though, as an aside, I am contemplating wishing Christians a Happy Ramadan next time it rolls around, just to see how they react.)

Second, its easy. Its a pain in the ass to tailor your words to suit each person's religious or celebratory heritage. "Happy Holidays" covers it nicely.
One size fits all, which in some ways accounts for the business embrace of the phrase.

That's all. Its simple really. No anti-Christian secular plot to see here, move along.

In this absurdly Christian nation, making the act of saying "Merry Christmas" seem like an act of civil disobedience is itself absurd, if not high comedy.

Not "sending Christmas cards to the ACLU and STICKIN' IT TO THE MAN" comedy, but comedy all the same.

Posted by: shingles | Dec 6, 2005 12:35:19 AM

And the English say both Merry and Happy Christmas.

As well as "Father Christmas, give us some money" (Kinks reference, sorry).

Posted by: shingles | Dec 6, 2005 12:38:51 AM

When someone says "merry Christmas" to me, it had better be December 24th or 25th. On those days, I reply in kind. Any others, I tell them they must have their days mixed up as it is not Christmas, yet.

Posted by: merlallen | Dec 6, 2005 12:42:07 AM

Our society is simply too contentious. Very few Christians would wish a non-christian a Merry Christmas to deliberately antagonize, and vice versa.

It's quite ironic that both extremes do not see that each is trying to stifle free speech. They had better hope they never achieve the society that they seem hell bent on getting, or we will all soon be reduced to greeting another person with, "It's weather."

What a stupid waste of time that could be spend on more productive action.

Posted by: janimo | Dec 7, 2005 7:26:55 PM

The Brits do say "Happy Christmas," which makes me sad, because I'm one of those atheists who likes to say "Merry Christmas" for the sake of sounding archaic and, yes, British. In general, though, being that I know people from lots of different religions, I've taken to wishing people a happy winter, usually on the solstice. It makes me feel slightly (faux) pagan, which I like, and most people aren't about to start religious arguments about the waxing and waning of sunlight. (Except solar mythologists, but they don't count, because we hate them.)

I'm continually amused that Christians get so up in arms about a holiday that was originally moved *by the church* to the 25th in an effort to market it more successfully.

Happy winter (a week early)!

Posted by: lowellboyslash | Dec 14, 2005 7:29:32 AM

..I've ever known. We are very fortunate to have blog contributions from someone like Susan with so much knowledge and experience in the hospitality industry.

Posted by: Juno888 | May 15, 2007 4:38:56 AM

The school paddle is, is not an effective instrument to deal with bad students

Posted by: acute | Sep 1, 2007 8:16:14 PM

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