Pew Research, perhaps with nothing better to do two weeks out from Christmas, asked a Christmas question they have asked many times in years past: do you prefer Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?
46 percent — the majority — said it just doesn’t matter.
The research seems to obsess over the way the question was asked. To some they asked, “Do you prefer ‘Merry Christmas’ or some other less religious term?”. To others they asked, “Do you prefer ‘Merry Christmas’, some other less religious term or it doesn’t matter?”
While gnashing their teeth over that subtle difference Pew misses the point altogether: they asked these questions in the context of “when you go into stores do you prefer to be greeted with…”
Why stores? Is that the only place we might hear or say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? Aren’t holiday greetings shared in business, at schools, churches and in homes, too? Is it different because of where you are? (That’s a much more interesting and telling question). Even more importantly, do you change what you say based upon where you are? (Chances are: yes).
In more than two decades now engaging in the conversation of Christmas with people from around the world I am yet to meet anyone who has actually voiced the opinion that the words “Merry Christmas” offends them. (But we have met plenty who say they are offended by the phrase “Happy Holidays”, as crazy as that seems).
What 46 percent are really saying when they select “it just doesn’t matter” is that this is a stupid question and is not relevant to their world.
For us, the issue is just as much about the fact that people are ignorant overall when it comes to the true meaning of these phrases.
You rarely hear, for example, the phrase “Merry Christmas” uttered in the UK. They say “Happy Christmas”, which causes some Americans to look on in wonder. That’s because the word “Merry” is still sometimes associated with drunkeness in UK. To say “Merry Christmas” could be construed there as a wish to get plastered at Christmas — not exactly your garden variety type of well-wishing.
But even more ridiculous is the idea that “Happy Holidays” is offensive. Folks take offense to it because they believe it diminishes their sacred observance of the season. What makes that ridiculous is that “Holidays” is based on the phrase “Holy Days”.