A reader quotes me:
"I'm not averse to Happy Holidays. I just find it somewhat vague and lame." Geez, seriously? "Happy Holidays" is SUPPOSED to be vague. It is premised on the inability to know for certain what holiday the recipient celebrates and a disinclination to operate on the assumption that that recipient is Christian. It sounds lame to you because you ARE a Christian. But what if there were a greeting premised on sexual orientation? What if, at a specific time of year, there were a greeting that assumed every recipient was heterosexual? Wouldn't you, eventually, find that wearying? It's not even that it's offensive; it's just an endless reminder of your presence in a dismissed and disregarded minority.
I'm Jewish. I'm not even that religious. But it's my heritage. And I'm an American. But from my earliest memories, I attended public schools where we sang Christmas carols – and not just "Jingle Bells" or even "Here Comes Santa Claus," but "Silent Night" and "We Three Kings" and others that talk about "Christ Our Saviour." My classrooms were decorated with images of Santa Claus and reindeers and "Merry Christmas" banners. We were given Christmas off – heck, the whole country was: it's a federal holiday.
So if someone wishes me "Happy Holidays," well, that's just one little triumph, one indication that a neighbor/co-worker/merchant has decided to buck the national and historical trend that operates on the assumption that everyone he or she meets is Christian.
I’m surprised that you don’t prefer "Happy Holidays", because it's actually more specific and precise than "Merry Christmas."
I start saying "Happy Holidays" around Thanksgiving time, because I’m fired up that it’s the holiday season. To me, that season extends through New Year’s. I only say Merry Christmas on Christmas Day. It seems odd to say Merry Christmas two weeks before Christmas Day. I don’t tell people "Happy Birthday" two weeks before their birthday. "Happy Holidays" is a great, catch-all way to let people know you’re in the holiday spirit at the end of the year. What’s lame about that?
I get why you personally, as a Catholic, might think "Happy Holidays" is lame in comparison to "Merry/Happy Christmas", but as for vague, that's kind of the point. Particularly in retail stores. The people shopping aren't all Christians, and not all are shopping for Christmas presents. Namely me, as I'm Jewish. There are a number of holiday celebrations in December besides Christmas, including Hannukah, Kwanza, Festivus, and others that I'm sure your readers will be happy to share. (Plus the generic New Year's Eve.)
It's one thing when you personally greet someone you know. I know which holidays my family and friends and co-workers are celebrating, so I greet them with the proper holiday salutation. But the salesperson helping me find a specific item, or the person at the checkout counter ringing me up generally has no idea what holiday I celebrate, unless I'm wearing a cross or a Jewish star, or have a pin, or I'm wearing some definitive article of clothing – and even then it's not necessarily clear. When I'm at the bank or the supermarket checkout, I wish those people "Happy Holidays" simply because I don't know which holiday they celebrate. That's the point. It's not about disrespecting people, or religion, or being vague for the sake of being vague. Or even being lame. It's about not being presumptuous while still passing on good wishes of the season.
Fun fact for the day: In 2016, Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve! On that note, Happy Christmas!