I always thought it was quite strange that when wishing someone well on the holiday of Christmas we would say “Merry Christmas.” It is curious because the term “merry” is seldom used in any other context in modern English anymore and it is only used for Christmas. When wishing someone well on just about any other holiday we always say “Happy (insert holiday here)”. In fact during this time of the year phrases like “Happy Holidays”, “Happy New Year”, and “Happy Hanukkah” are all commonly heard. What is it that makes Christmas so special in that respect?
Well, here’s a pretty good explanation why. The first known Christmas greeting in the English language we know about came from an informal letter written in 1699 wishing someone a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” so we know that such a distinction existed since at least then. It is also thought that the phrase “Merry Christmas” got a very strong cultural endorsement by Charles Dickens in his famous novel “A Christmas Carol” where all of the characters would use that phrase in the same way that we would use it today and that became extremely popular thing to say in Victorian England which eventually made its way over to America.
But if you were to go to the UK or Ireland today you will find that many of the people there will be wishing you a “Happy Christmas.” Having lived in England during one holiday season I speak from personal experience. Why is it that they say “Happy Christmas” like any other holiday? One of the explanations as to why that’s the case is that the word “merry” has an alternate meaning in England. As well as “joyous and happy”, it also means “drunk” in English English. This was further reinforced by Queen Elizabeth II in her annual Christmas addresses to her country. Well aware of this alternate meaning she has never once wished her country a “Merry Christmas” during her 61 year reign.
As for me, I agree with the British on this one. The phrase “Happy Christmas” makes far more sense to me rather than using a word that is hardly used anymore outside of December. So with that being said, on behalf of all of us here at Churchill, we wish all of you a very Happy Christmas.
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