We greet each other with “Merry Christmas” this time of year. And we end conversations with the same greeting. But why? Why say this and do we mean it?
But have you ever stopped to wonder where the phrase “Merry Christmas” actually comes from? After all, for most other holidays, we use the word “happy.” In a world where “Happy Easter” and “Happy Birthday” are the norm, that “merry” part of “Merry Christmas” is unique—to say the least.
No one is entirely certain of the answer, but there are several interesting theories.
A scan of the internet brings up these interesting thoughts:
For starters, it’s important to note that “Happy Christmas” hasn’t faded completely—it’s still widely used in England. This is believed to be because “happy” took on a higher class connotation than “merry,” which was associated with the rowdiness of the lower classes. The royal family adopted “Happy Christmas” as their preferred greeting, and others took note. (In fact, each year, Queen Elizabeth continues to wish her citizens a “Happy Christmas,” rather than a merry one.)
Historians and linguists can’t pinpoint for sure exactly why we tend to use Merry Christmas. The greeting dates back to at least 1534 in London, when it was written in a letter sent to Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell from bishop John Fisher. Scholars also note the phrase was used in the 16th century English carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
From NBC News:
Today, however, the practice of using “Merry Christmas” is a fraught one. The choice between sticking with the traditional salutation or the more politically correct “Happy Holidays” is riven by differences in ideology, age, geography and gender. The person most likely to insist on “Merry Christmas” would be a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest; the archetypal “Happy Holidays” proponent is a young (18 to 29) female Democrat living in the Northeast.
The political gap can be particularly large: A 2016 Public Religion Research Institute survey found, for example, that in response to the question, “Do you think stores and businesses should greet their customers with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ out of respect for people of different faiths, or not?” 67 percent of Republicans said “No” and 66 percent of Democrats said “Yes.”
After thinking all this over and putting aside all the “political correctness” one may choose to follow, Merry Christmas is the preferred greeting of many folks in our area. Underlying there may be a desire to acknowledge the birth of Jesus or Immanuel. After all the angels announced to the shepherds that cold night that “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 1:10-11 NRSV).”
And that is the reason we celebrate. MERRY CHRISTMAS!