‘Merry Christmas’ vs. ‘Happy Holidays’

As Cheryl Guyer watches customers become aggravated over the topic of replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” she said she believes that the elimination of “Merry Christmas” is pointless.

“Christmas is such a secular holiday today that so many people celebrate it without thinking about what they’re celebrating,” said Guyer, a religious studies major at Youngstown State University who has worked retail during the holiday season for several years.

Christopher Bache, a professor in the philosophy and religious studies department at YSU, said he believes it is healthy for people to acknowledge and understand religious perspectives that stem from cultural customs.

“I was raised a Catholic, taught world religions for 30 years, practiced within a Buddhist lineage and am both universalist and post-religious at heart,” he said.

Bache said he would respond with, “Happy Holidays.”

“When I say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ I broaden it in my mind to refer to all the great teachers from all the spiritual traditions who have incarnated to help humankind,” Bache said.

Mark Vopat, assistant professor in the philosophy and religious studies department at YSU, said he believes that shopping outlets instruct employees to respond with “Happy Holidays” because they are taking into consideration the fact that not all customers are of the Christian faith.

“Although ‘Merry Christmas’ can be viewed as somewhat secular, it is still inherently a greeting with religious overtones,” Vopat said.

Vopat is also aware that by saying “Happy Holidays,” people are recognizing that the celebrations of others may consist of Kwanzaa or Hanukkah — and not always Christmas.

“From a store perspective, it seems to be more considerate, given you don’t know the religious beliefs of every customer, to express a more general greeting [and] goodbye,” Vopat said.

He said he sees nothing wrong with a social tradition between customers and strangers who encourage the holiday spirit.

“It seems to me that offense should only be taken if someone were intentionally attempting to belittle your religious belief, or if you had somehow made it obvious that you were a Christian,” he said.

Bruce Waller, chairman of the philosophy and religious studies department at YSU, said “Merry Christmas” doesn’t really offend him.

“It is certainly better than ‘Go to hell,'” Waller said. “But ‘Happy Holidays’ seems more appropriate in our wonderfully diverse campus community, embracing the full range of religious and nonreligious belief.”

Waller said he believes that expressing holiday spirit through “Happy Holidays” allows all people to be recognized through that more general term.

Senior Phylicia Simms said she would say, “Merry Christmas,” to someone she knows personally. She would probably tell a stranger, “Happy Holidays,” though.

“I thought that it was always Jewish people that were offended because they don’t celebrate. Again, that’s their choice, their religion, and if a Christian is saying ‘Merry Christmas,’ they mean it in a respective way, not a rude way, and both parties should understand that it needs to be taken into contexts,” Simms said.

Political science major Levant Miller said he believes the term, “Merry Christmas,” is synonymous with the holiday season and reflects a sense of religious acknowledgement, as does the holiday itself.

“To find offense in the term is a bit of [an] over-exaggeration,” he said.

Comparing the scenario, Miller used the example of sneezing and someone responding with, “God bless you,” saying it would be seen as an equivalent offense to saying, “Merry Christmas.”

“My personal belief is one in which ‘Merry Christmas’ is used to celebrate the season. If someone finds offense in that, then ‘God bless them,'” Miller said.

Guyer said she doesn’t understand how the phrase, “Merry Christmas,” is all of a sudden offensive to certain individuals.

“Christmas is a worldwide holiday that falls on Dec. 25 every single year,” Guyer said. “The term, ‘Christmas,’ is on calendars. It’s in songs, movies, commercials, and if someone doesn’t want to participate, then that’s their decision, but they shouldn’t make others change, too.”

Guyer said the whole issue just causes more bickering about things that really don’t matter.

“If anyone from any faith came up to me and gave me a holiday blessing from their particular faith, I know that I would be honored and thankful,” she said.