By Stephen Ford
The season of good tidings often brings an awkward moment. It has happened in the checkout line, on a phone call, during a quick conversation with a neighbor. I’ll say, “Merry Christmas.” The other person will respond, “Happy holidays.” Tranquility turns to tension. A simple exchange of well wishes ends uncomfortably.
But this year will be different. I’m going to say “happy holidays”—not only in response to others but as my default December greeting. Far from being an effort to avoid religious language, I’ve come to understand that the phrase is inherently religious and respectful.
Many of the evangelical Christians I grew up with, and the Catholics whom I have since joined, feel hesitant about “happy holidays.” Sometimes that hesitation becomes outright hostility. This attitude comes from the justifiable fear that Judeo-Christian traditions and cultural trappings are being swept away by a secular tide. Language has the power to shape what we believe and think, the argument goes, so abandoning the word “Christmas” speaks to a broader abolition of the Christian faith in the public square.
There’s no doubt that secularism is rising, and plenty of Americans say “happy holidays” to steer clear of religion, although many others use it to be inclusive of other religious traditions, including Hanukkah.