In the ongoing kerfuffle over the use of “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas,” we seem to be forgetting something: although “Happy Holidays” has, in the last couple of decades, taken on some overtones of being an all-inclusive, even secular, benediction, it is itself originally and historically Christian in character.
What exactly are the “holidays” (holy days) that this allegedly non-denominational salutation honors? Winter Solstice? Kwanzaa? Hardly–the use of “Happy Holidays” precedes the popular recognition of either of those (Kwanzaa, remember, only dates back to the late 1960’s). Hanukkah? Perhaps, as Hanukkah has long been recognized on American calendars and on the cultural consciousness, though it is not nearly as publicly visible as the three main holidays that the phrase truly recognizes. (It should be noted, by the way–as many frustrated, patronized Jews point out each December–that Hanukkah is not a major holiday to them, the way Christmas is to Christians. It isn’t even one of the high holy days.)
Throughout most of the years it’s been in use, “Happy Holidays” has referred to the entire “holiday season” in general, which has always been understood to start with Thanksgiving and to end with New Year’s.
As I showed here about a month ago, Thanksgiving is a religious, Christian holiday. New Year’s, also, is a Christian holiday, as it marks the change in years on the Christian calendar. In less than two weeks we’ll be moving from 2010 to 2011 A.D., Anno Domini–“in the year of our Lord.” (It’s interesting that many secularists prefer to label our years as “C.E.”–Common, Current, or Christian Era–but this still admits that the watershed event in Western history, around which our very calendar revolves, is the life of Jesus Christ.)
Finally, if this isn’t enough to demonstrate the special place Christmas and Christianity have had and still have in American society, remember that of the eleven official federal holidays recognized in the United States, three of them are distinctly religious in nature–the three covered by the phrase “Happy Holidays.”
Christmas has been a national holiday in the United States since 1870.