Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, which is correct in the UK?
I have been asked this question several times recently, and I have been somewhat hesitant to write an article about it due to the religious connotation.
However, I am not one to shy away from the big questions, so I have decided to address it.
Before I begin, I would like to make a disclaimer that this article is not intended to offend anyone of non-Christian faith, nor to trigger comments on religious opinions. It is written with the desire to help people understand the terminology, why it is such, and how to honour this, and other religious celebrations, from an etiquette point of view.
So, the answer is that it IS correct to wish others a Merry Christmas in the UK.
However, this can cause some confusion for international people, as in the USA, Happy Holidays is more commonly used. Therefore, it’s useful to understand why our greeting in the UK is different:
Both the USA and the UK are recognised secular states (a country where the state is kept separate from religion), i.e., they do not discriminate or favour persons based on their religious beliefs.
However, the UK’s constitution requires the head of state to swear to protect the Church of England through taking the Coronation Oath. This oath enacted in the late 17th century is characteristic of religious states and non-secular states.
As such, our public holidays are scheduled around the Christian faith calendar, so while not everyone celebrates these religious festivals, everyone in the UK is affected by them somehow.
So, what greeting should we extend when conversing with someone who does not appear to be of the Christian religion?
Well, it’s important not to make assumptions. I know of ladies who have converted to Christianity, and so if we are in any doubt, we should apply the rule, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ Therefore, when in the UK, we wish others Merry Christmas.
If you know the person is of a different faith or does not follow any religion, you face a dilemma. And so, the big question is, might you risk offending someone if you wish them Merry Christmas?
Well, perhaps it is the sentiment behind it that is the most important factor; for most of us, it is a gesture of goodwill, peace, and kindness, and that can only be a good thing.
Put it this way, if I am wished a Happy Chinese New Year on 12 February or Happy Ramadan on 12 April, I will certainly not take offence; in fact, I will gladly receive the good wishes.
If the UK was to abolish Merry Christmas, then every person of every faith in this country would need to reciprocate. And what a shame that would be! Being inclusive and acknowledging these celebrations is, in my opinion, HOW we show respect, interest, and understanding in our multi-cultural society.
So, for those of you who wish to say, “Merry Christmas,” then it is absolutely fine to do so. For those who wish to say, “Happy Holidays”, you are not committing an unforgivable British etiquette sin, but one thing I would like to mention is that the word holiday is derived from the word holy day…
Merry Christmas, my friends.