What's the Big Fuss about 'Happy Holidays'?

Bill Barnwell's piece on the 13th about this same subject was clever and fun and rang very well. Throughout reading it I kept thinking that he had picked up and developed an etymological origin which I really like…, and came upon well into my adult life; I was disappointed that I hadn't brought it to mind earlier in this ridiculous rhubarb about Christmas greeting terminology. I thought I had missed my chance to present it, but Barnwell never slid over into the construct of my interest so I'll present it forthwith. He didn't; I shall.

Barnwell's article developed the theme of the offensiveness of burdening unreceptive people with the greeting of, "Happy…," or, for that matter, "Merry…," when those people might find such cheery sentiments offensive. All well taken. Light fun poked at people overly serious about others' condition.

The best part of the whole deal is that the secularists who are disparaging "Merry Christmas" and promoting "Happy Holidays" are using a word with decidedly ecclesiastical origins. Holiday, in Merriam-Webster's 10th Edition, first listed definition, is: "HOLY DAY," and is derived from the Middle English from the Old English for "holy" and "day."

That definition has stuck with me through the years, especially when I hear the English or Canadians speak of being "on holidays." But I hadn't thought of it as a subject for a learned treatise on current events and attitudes until Barnwell explored that other avenue.

So, the secularists are blocking the use of the specific word "Christmas," and substituting the less specific, but no less religiously implicit ( ? explicit) word "holiday." I love it! Substituting "holiday" for "Christmas" is a public good because it eliminates the perceived religiosity of "Christmas," but we've just demonstrated that "holiday" has just as much religiousness in its origin and primary definition. Realization of that should really hurt the atheists and the ACLU.

In the civil arena the ACLU is going to have to get busy and proscribe the use of such a holy word as "holiday" on the sign on City Hall's front lawn. How about "Happy Winter Time-Off." Boy, that's smooth. But, we have to protect the unsuspecting citizenry from the establishment of religion, even at the cost of casting a pall over the free exercise thereof.

In the politically correct arena of commerce they are just going to have to get used to the idea of foregoing what they thought was an artful dodge by using "Happy Holidays" in place of "Merry Christmas" because it is just as religiously loaded as the latter.

Now, it can readily be said that "holiday" in general usage has been assigned a much less pious meaning. That is acknowledged and is the second definition in Merriam-Webster but the first definition is "holy day" and is indicated to be synonymous by being written all in small caps, as above.

Further, "holiday" might be defended by some as being more generally non-sectarian than "Merry Christmas" albeit of considerable religious impact. Two problems with that: it certainly wouldn't satisfy the hard case atheist activists because it still represents a holy, faith-based concept; second, it would reveal the ploy of the PC crowd as being primarily and specifically anti-Christian.

It cannot be denied: holiday is a religious word. Going back one more definition we find that "holy" has five definitions in Merriam-Webster. The first one doesn't specify religion, but try to interpret this as anything other: 1 : exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness !! Definitions two through 4-b use the words "DIVINE," "deity," and "sacred." The fifth definition refers to the use of "holy" as an intensive: holy mess, holy terror. It goes on to the use of "holy" as a "mild oath" — holy smoke. Sounds downright profane. The dictionary left out holy cow — perhaps in deference to the Hindu; also, they left out a couple other holies that are in common usage…, but so will we.

Holiday is not only a religious word; it is a Christian word. Its derivation is from the Old English through the Middle English. Holy might somewhat predate Christian England from the Angles and Saxons, but in its persistence down through Middle English holy very much has brought down its Christian associations, both Roman Catholic, then Church of England. The reader doesn't have to believe, just acknowledge.

"Merry Christmas; have a Holy Day."

December 15, 2005