“Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?

With Halloween being over, the new focus of commercials, paper ads, stores, etc. is now the wonderful holiday that is Christmas. I know you’re thinking “what happened to Thanksgiving?”. I ask myself that question every year. Around Christmastime everyone seems to be in the best mood possible. Everyone is constantly smiling, baking cookies, throwing Christmas parties, and singing their hearts out to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. Christmas is a very cheerful time.


As you notice I keep using the word “Christmas” when speaking about the upcoming holiday. This is something that companies and organizations try to stay away from these days. The reason for that is contextual communication ethics, an approach to communication ethics that recognizes variations in culture, persons, and communication settings. When companies utilize contextual communication ethics, they are considering each individual person that benefits from their company and they are also protecting themselves. The perfect example that is going to be very apparent soon is saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”. Have you noticed over the years that more and more businesses stray away from saying “merry Christmas”? This is because in America diversity of culture is growing rapidly. Saying “merry Christmas” to someone that celebrates another holiday such as Kwanzaa or Hanukkah could easily that person. So companies have began changing the way that they celebrate the holiday.

Now on advertisements like commercials and print ads, “happy holidays” is used to avoid alienating people that do not celebrate Christmas. A few years ago, many Americans were very upset that they barely heard “merry Christmas” while shopping anymore. Christians workers, especially, were angry that the company they worked for enforced the new “happy holidays” saying. A recent dispute that relates to “happy holidays” is the red Starbucks catastrophe that occurred last year. Basically, Christians felt that Starbucks changed their holiday cup design to be less-Christian because the cups no longer said “merry Christmas”, (an example of Starbucks utilizing contextual communication ethics). This controversy turned into one of the biggest issues of 2015. Recently, Starbucks released their holiday cups and they are now green. People are now even more outraged. There is no winning with Starbucks’ customers apparently.


However, besides the Starbucks fiasco, as the years go on it is becoming more acceptable to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”. Overall, companies see this as a way to include various types of people that come from various backgrounds and cultures. Whether its “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas”, I just hope everyone watches Home Alone, spends time with their family, and eats a great big feast.


– Jordan S

12 thoughts on ““Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?

  1. Unfortunately, this does happen every year and continues to get worse. I have experienced being in the situation where I said “Merry Christmas” to a family that celebrated Hanukkah and it was extremely uncomfortable. I was simply trying to be friendly and it backfired. Now, I say happy holidays to anyone I am not familiar with just in case! Always excited for the holiday season; completely agree that everyone is in a much better mood in December.

  2. This is a topic that does get discussed every year, but seems to be more prominent in our culture today. Starbucks (the example used) has become a huge controversy because the company is so important and used by so many people. When it comes down to it, how in the world are you going to make every person using that product content when the user base is so diverse? I feel bad for companies because it is something that has to be talked about during this time of year. Loved the meme, and pictures used! This was super timely, and well said.

  3. I completely agree I think it is a little outrageous that people have so much push back about happy holidays. I think we all should just ignore the controversies, get over it and like you said sit back enjoy good food, spend quality time with family and friends and watch home alone! I agree this is what the holidays is all about. People are going to inevitably get offended either way and we see that with the example you gave about the Starbucks cups. There is just no winning with that company. Great post! I am now excited for Christmas time:)

  4. I am a Christian and I find it so upsetting when other Christians ignore other religions and their holidays. Yes, I believe that their beliefs conflict with my own but a crucial idea in Christianity is free will. With that in mind, I believe it is not my job to belittle or ignore your holiday’s but rather accept you, make an effort not to offend you, and ultimately love you as a person. That should be what Christmas is about in my mind, so if it makes you feel better to hear “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” that is fine with me. I enjoyed reading your post and really like the topic you chose!

  5. I often see so much anger directed towards companies and people who say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” and I honestly don’t understand it. In reality, there are an array of celebrations that happen during this time of year–some religious, others not so much. The choice I make (as a Christian) is to spread love and goodwill to anyone and everyone, whether or not they celebrate a holiday the same way that I do. If you take the time out of your day to wish me “Happy Holidays,” I will smile and return the sentiment. In my opinion, there is far too much divisiveness in this world already; we, as people, don’t need to start adding to that.

  6. This is such an accurate post! I actually love both sayings and I can understand why people had such an opinion on this. I wouldn’t want someone to say Happy Hanukkah whenever I don’t celebrate Hanukkah.

  7. I understand why big companies take this approach on the holidays. They want to stay neutral when it comes to controversies over issues like religion. Which I can agree is a smart move by a big brand. They do not want to alienate a certain demographic that consumes their product but at the same time by taking something away that has been traditionally the norm for society for so many years will also affect consumers in a negative way. Either way big brands will always be under the microscope for the actions they take and its up to them to decide if their current plan they are using to market themselves is working? or do they need to make a change and take the risk of receiving backlash from consumers.

  8. In the retail world they seem to skip over Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas and each year it gets worse. I do understand why retailers and businesses say, “Happy Holidays” so they can expand to a larger audience, but it takes away from what is really going on. It’s more than “Happy Holidays,” it’s about “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.” I don’t 100% agree with just making it “Happy Holidays” and by no means am I a very religious person. The retailers and businesses have changed it to “Happy Holidays” for them only so they can make money and won’t offend anyone.

  9. I absolutely love your post. This is a really tough topic. Yes, everyone should respect each others religion but I also think that everyone should respect freedom of speech. I understand that companies try to use contextual ethics communication. However, how is it fair that customers have the freedom to express how they feel but businesses can not. Take Hobby Lobby for example. It is a company that is based off of Christianity. There have been customers who have tried to shut this company down strictly because what it is based on. I think that’s ridiculous. Every person in Hobby Lobby has been kind. I’ve never had a bad experience. They show you respect and so much more. They are not out to get you by preaching to you as soon as you walk into the store. Hobby Lobby offers many different merchandise products that do not involve anything dealing with Christianity. If you don’t like what a business stands for and can not respect their views then DON’T GO INSIDE. Great post.

  10. Hi IMC Class!
    I really liked this post because it was well written and easy to read. Although, I am a Christian I agree with saying “Happy Holidays”, because America is a diverse country and saying “Merry Christmas” excludes people. The holidays are about spreading joy and cheer, so it shouldn’t matter what we say. I also believe that America has far bigger problems than whether or not Starbuck’s cups are red or green. Arguing over things like cup colors defeats the purpose of the holidays. It brings unwanted negativity. Although, your post was well written there were some inconsistences like not capitalizing all the “Merry’s”. You also had a typo when you said “easily that person”, we all make mistakes but just make sure to reread before posting!

  11. Oh goodness was I happy to see this article! I have always been a supporter of Happy Holidays. Happy Holiday-S. The plurality is the point here. The phrase is so great because it allows you to not assume one is a member of the majority or minority, risking alienation. No, using Happy Holidays you can refer to all holidays in this time of year, seeing as there are so many for so many different religions. We shouldn’t get offended at wanting to include religions other than the majority, instead we should actively try to be inclusive!

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