Imagine that you’re waiting in the checkout line at a store that sells home décor and furniture. Naturally, most of the displays near the front of the store consist of grand Christmas trees complete with all the glittery trimmings you could imagine. There are 3-foot tall penguins and snowmen that not only light up, but promise to make your competitive neighbors totally jealous. The pair of ladies ahead of you have finally finished paying for the their vases, and as the store associate is bagging their items, one of women indignantly remarks, “Don’t you have any bags that don’t say Merry Christmas?”

I actually witnessed this over the weekend, and it was one of the few moments in my life that I wanted to channel Moe from The Three Stooges and clunk these two bitches’ heads together.

Let me share with you the two universal truths that prompted this extreme reaction:

1.)  Saying “Merry Christmas” to someone isn’t always prompted by the assumption that the individual in question celebrates Christmas.

2.)  Hearing “Merry Christmas” will not ruin your reputation as a non-Christmas celebrator. Nor does carrying a plastic bag that reads “Merry Christmas” bring dishonor to your own holiday traditions.

Whenever I say, “Merry Christmas” to someone, I don’t put any thought into what holiday they might celebrate. Am I the only person who thinks it’s worse to guess what holiday someone celebrates based on his or her appearance? I mean, how ludicrous is that?

Hmm… That guy has a dreidel key chain and his breath smells of gefilte fish. “Happy Hanukkah!”

Gee, that woman is wearing a hijab. “Have a blessed Ramandan!”

Oh, this person is African American. “Enjoy Kwanzaa!”

Yipee! A regular white person. “SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!”

Exactly.Image source
Exactly.
Image source

Saying “Merry Christmas” during the holiday season is a pleasantry as arbitrary as asking, “What’s up?” or “How are you?” The response doesn’t really matter; what’s more important is that the gesture was made. And what’s the worst that could happen when you’re wished a “Merry Christmas” and you don’t celebrate it?

Is your reputation ruined? Do those two words, meant with good intentions, threaten the legitimacy of your chosen winter celebration? Does an angel lose its wings? Literally nothing happens until you make a scene about it.

To give this a little more context, consider that a little over 31% of people in the entire world identify themselves as Christians—that constitutes a majority. Whether you celebrate the holiday religiously or not, Christmas does have its origins as a commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth.

I personally don’t celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas. In my house, there’s no time spent setting up the nativity scene or attending midnight mass, but I know for many people that’s an important part of Christmas. I’ve never once been offended when someone said to me, “Have a blessed Christmas.” I’ve also never huffed and puffed when someone mistook my last name as being Jewish and wished me a Happy Hanukkah.

Beyond the religious considerations, Christmas, more than any of the other winter holidays, is the one that’s translated the most easily into a huge moneymaker. It’s no coincidence that the prominence of Christmas in our culture is directly related to Santa Claus’s commercial appeal.

One thing is valid no matter how you explain Christmas’s status in our culture: You won’t burst into flames when you’re given kind wishes about a holiday you don’t celebrate. You shouldn’t expect strangers to know what or how you celebrate the holiday season, especially not in the checkout line.

All-purpose phrases like “Seasons Greetings!” or “Happy Holidays!” have been recommended as politically correct alternatives to circumvent any uncomfortable feelings that might arise from being wished a Merry Christmas. Unfortunately, these efforts have prompted the easily offended Christmas zealots among us to turn this issue into one that’s soapbox worthy.

Tee shirts and bumper stickers that read, “I say Merry Christmas” have started appearing during the holidays. Unlike the fox, Ylvis will not have to write a song imagining what these people say during the holiday season. I’ve even learned The American Christian Life United choir has a single named, “Say Merry Christmas.” Others have resorted to claiming, “This is ‘merica! We celebrate Christmas here, dammit! Now lemme clean this here gun.”

I say, you're an asshole.Image source
I say, you’re an asshole.
Image source

I don’t care what your reason is, religious, nativist, or otherwise, if you go out of your way to say “Merry Christmas” specifically to prove a point, you’re wrong. If you’re affronted by someone wishing you “Happy Holidays” as an alternative, you’re worse than the people who get upset about Christmas wishes. I think all Christmas lovers can appreciate the frustration that comes of someone getting offended by our innocent Merry Christmasing, but that doesn’t change the fact that this holiday shouldn’t be about politics–dragging a beloved celebration into that arena is really ugly. Regardless of the origins of Christmas, no one ever has the right to intentionally shove Christmas down anyone’s throat. This holiday isn’t a justification for conversion.

If you make an effort to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” you’re doing a nice thing, and you should be proud of yourself. However, I don’t think the mere existence of “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” resigns you to being a thoughtless dolt or worse, an exclusionary fanatic, if you make the “faux pas” of wishing someone a Merry Christmas.

I think we all need to stop being jerks about wishing people a Merry Christmas. We need to be respectful of the fact that there are numerous holidays besides Christmas. We need to remember some people hate reindeer. We need to be a little less sensitive and realize that someone wishing you “Merry Christmas” doesn’t mean you have to start going to their church or leaving cookies out for Santa. We need to stop dragging politics into something that’s supposed to be fun and joyful.

So although it’s been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you. Not because that’s what should be said, not because I assume you’re a Christian, not because I assume you’re exactly like me and happen to like Christmas trees—Merry Christmas because that holiday holds some of my fondest memories, and I only wish the same for you, however that manifests itself in your household.

60 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Being Jerks About “Merry Christmas”

  1. I’ll agree with you on this. I do wish people weren’t so stupid about it and those who wish me a Merry Christmas will get a smile and returned wish because I know they likely celebrate it. If I wish someone a bright and merry Yule, will the wish be returned?

    Personally, if I were still Christian I’d be more upset by the people who celebrate Christmas but not in the religious context. That’s more of an affront to Christianity then those who don’t want anything to do with the day. Just my opinion.

    Of course there are extremist idiots on all sides who create most of the trouble with this.

    And Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    1. If someone wishes me a merry anything, I typically just say, “you too,” because I assume what they’ve said to me is what they celebrate, like you said.

      Regarding secular Christmas, a post on that is upcoming, so I’ll save my many thoughts on that for a future discussion.

      But you’re absolutely right. Extremism is bad for everything–even Christmas.

  2. That’s why I just say “Go fuck yourself” to everyone I meet all year long. When I’m responding to a greeting from another person, I say, “Thank you. Go fuck yourself,” because I have manners.

  3. I know right? I just choose to be offended by anyone and everything. The worst offender is someone telling me to have a nice day, when clearly they can see on my face that I am a bitter blogger and wish to be greeted with “Have a bitter day!”

  4. I love this. Merry Christmas to you, as well.

    On a somewhat similar note, one time I said “Bless you” to a stranger (because they sneezed) and he looked at me, huffed, and said “No thank you” ….. I was just trying to be nice!

    1. That’s ridiculous, too. I’m an atheist, and I don’t get mad when people say “bless you” because I know they’re trying to be kind as opposed to interpreting it as, “ACCEPT GOD INTO YOUR HEART!!!!!!!”

  5. Had an occasion to wish someone Merry Christmas and they told me they don’t celebrate Christmas. I said, “well happy Chanukah then.” “Don’t do that either.” “Okay then f*ck you. Have a nice day.” “I never have a nice day. F*ck you too.” Really happened.

  6. Indeed, especially the part about not trying to guess someone’s holiday based on their appearance. I learned this lesson the hard way early on. When I was little, and our neighbourhood was fast becoming more multicultural, my friend’s parents sent us out on Halloween with the well-intentioned-but-ignorant advice, “If you meet someone from India, don’t say Happy Halloween, say Happy Ramadan!” …Of course, the first person we tried this on was like, “uh, yeah, I’m not muslim…”

    1. Oh yeah, it can lead to disastrous results. I think they really overestimated how many people celebrate Kwanzaa when I was in grade school learning about the different holidays celebrated around the world.

  7. Ugh… this time of the year has become so commercialized that most CHRISTIANS seem to be more concerned with consumerism than what the meaning of Christmas truly is. Most children these days see Christmas as a time to get multiple toys, video Games, etc. It frustrates me tremendously… and the fact that we just go along with it all and let giant corporations take advantage of us… ugh. Makes me sick. I REALLY dislike this time of year.

    But back to the topic… I don’t celebrate Christmas for the reasons I just stated. However, I am not offended if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas and I always say it back. It’s called being polite.

    1. Exactly, the polite factor is just it. Like someone mentioned above, it’s the same with saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. I don’t personally need or want a “bless you,” but when someone gives me one, I say thank you.

  8. Oy, such nice girl and not Jewish, such sadness… 🙂
    I’m an atheist, so I’m not too excited about hearing “Merry Christmas”, but I do say that to people since I actually think that “Happy Holidays” sounds even worse.
    Anyway, it’s a little too early for Christmas, so happy Let’s Hug Day and merry National Roof-Over-Your-Head Day to you! (according to http://www.checkiday.com/)

    1. Vhat are ye crazy?!

      I’m an atheist, too. One that celebrates Christmas, obviously. I’m not a huge fan of “Happy Holidays,” either, and “Merry Christmas” does run the risk of people assuming I’ll be playing Mary in my city’s live nativity scene (is that thing?) But I say both.

      Happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities! …I think I see why people stick to Merry Christmas.

  9. Love it.

    Yeah, people can be kind of oversensitive idiots about this. End of Decemberish = Christmas-time, whether you celebrate it or not. If I say Merry Christmas, I am hoping you are going to have a nice time during that period, whether you do it with trees and presents, or with roosters and pinatas, or with Jesus-themed activities. And if someone says Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings or whatever, I assume the gist is the same and that I am being wished well.

    I’m not going to get offended by vocabulary choice. (Although your commenter who tells random people to fuck off as a greeting – I’d probably be offended by that, I’ll admit.) I tend to think that people who get their knickers in a knot over this kind of shit really have way too much time on their hands.

  10. I don’t celebrate Christmas at all, but the words “Merry Christmas” certainly don’t get me worked up. If it did, I’d be an anal asshole like that lady at the check-out counter…
    Merry Christmas!

  11. And that is why I dread the prospect of working retail ever…driving and checkout lines bring out the very worse in people.

    1. Oh, it absolutely does. I worked retail for a little over three years in high school, and some people would get so mad about the dumbest things. I had a lady once get in my face over the Christmas music that was playing. Look, I’m sorry annoying Christmas carols exist, but I don’t call the shots here!

  12. Man, I hope I don’t come across someone mad about that. Amazing how people act at this time of year when all holidays are meant to stand for something greater!

  13. For whatever reason i prefer to type Xmas rather than Christmas but I’m not really offended by the word Christ. I’m an atheist who (used to) loves Christmas so I don’t really associate the whole baby Jesus thing with this time of year. Salud!

    1. I don’t really associate the baby Jesus thing with this time of year, either. I was actually just wondering the other day how the “x” came to replace Christ? I sometimes just type Xmas because it’s shorter and I’m lazy.

  14. You should see the “Holiday tree” in the hotel’s lobby, Katie.
    We’ve gone out of our way to avoid upsetting those travelers who don’t celebrate Christmas. The whole concept of political correctness irks me.
    I find it irksome.

    1. The Christmas apologetics have a way of getting old. If we could all just come to an understanding about it, none of this would be necessary and we could have Christmas trees without someone feeling like their holiday toes are being stepped on.

  15. I watched that Amazing Atheist dude on Fox news a while ago, talking about how he, and other atheists, are offended by people wishing them a merry christmas. I rarely want to punch people in the soul. But this guy, man, fuck me – arsehole. Who gives a shit? I was gonna write a rant on this too. You’ve inspired me Katie. And for that, I wish you a merry christmas.

  16. I agree 100%. My name is Mary so I just tell people “Mary Mary”. I sometimes get wierd looks 🙂 I’m an agnostic so I really don’t care if people say merry christmas or whatever, it’s just a niceity that people say this time of year.

  17. I did wish at least one person a Merry Christmas this year at work and received back an angry/appreciative response thanking me for saying it. She refused to say Happy Holidays, and she she said so far no one had complained. It was a gosh-darnit I’m going to say Merry Christmas no matter who I piss off kind of a thank you. It made me laugh, but it made me laugh more to wonder what she would think if she knew I was an atheist. One doesn’t need to believe in a deity to spread good cheer, ya know?

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