"That you may ruminate"

…On “Happy Holidays.”

Posted by Steve on December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays, everyone. Seriously: hopefully you just had a good holiday, and hopefully you’re about to have a good coseasonal holiday.

Come again, you ask?

Well, there’s more than one holiday to the holiday season – just check the Christmas carol: “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Or check the things that happen while kids are off from school: Christmas, New Year’s. Hmm…

Now, I realize that people regard the use of “Happy Holidays” as a generic substitute for “Merry Christmas” based on the multiple holidays that go on this time of year and celebration of which is, to a degree of accuracy ranging from “correct” to “incorrect”, widely regarded as mutually exclusive with celebrating Christmas: חנוכה is one, Kwanzaa is another, Festivus is another, and as I recall from having a pair of Reclaiming roommates there’s some sort of Solstice thingy. And I know that some people are bothered by this supposed origin of the phrase “Happy Holidays”.

Well, I don’t think that interpretation makes sense, because if that’s all it were about, nobody’d say “Happy Holidays”, they’d say “Happy Holiday”. As in, “Whatever sole holiday you celebrate, have a happy one.” ‘Cause after all, nobody who celebrates Hannukah celebrates Christmas (I mean, besides my elementary school, and my family when I was a kid, and my Jewish Grandma), and nobody’s going to be celebrating both Kwanzaa and Christmas except for maybe the many people who are or were both Christian and AfricanAmerican. So, you know, the idea that people celebrate One And Only One holiday during December is a crock, but such is the perception, and apparently this perception’s led to the idea that people say “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid giving offense by misidentifying that One Winter Holiday when speaking to someone.

Here’s my thoughts on that: New Year’s is a holiday. New Year’s is very close to all those holidays. Everybody celebrates New Year’s – even if they really do only celebrate one holiday in December. Two holidays, minimum: New Year’s plus Whatever Else. Now, people are lazy. “Happy Holidays” covers any possible combination of (New Years)+(Something Else), without having to think about – or even learn about – any list of (Something Else). It’s five syllables, and with “good new year” taking up 3, it can only be bested by “good [monosyllabic holiday]” (by the way, if anyone knows of any monosyllabic names for holidays, I’d love to hear them – as far as I know, none exist). It’s easy. It’s great. It’s at least two holiday greetings for the effort of one.

And that, I assure you, is the real reason people say “Happy Holidays”.

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