Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? A Jew’s Opinion

Merry Christmas sign

Merry Christmas
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A debate has been raging which you may be following. The debate centers on whether it is more appropriate to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

Obviously, the politically correct answer is Happy Holidays.

After all, we live in a diverse society in a country that was founded on religious freedom.

Happy Holidays Sign

Happy Holidays
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

One of the reasons my grandparents and great grandparents came to America was to escape persecution that was based on religion alone. I feel very fortunate to be in America where I am free to practice my religion however I choose without fear of repercussions.

My background and feelings are not unique to me but are the story of many Americans.

So, diversity and appreciation for differences is one of the reasons I am most proud to be American.

Yet when it comes to the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas debate, I do not have a strong opinion. In fact, while I would prefer people wish me Happy Holidays, I have no problem if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas.

After all, despite the diversity and melting pot that is America, according to numerous sources 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas.

And I am American.

Now, I have neither intention nor interest in celebrating Christmas (I will always be appreciative of receiving gifts, and I would be happy to provide you with a list). Similarly, I do not expect said people to celebrate Passover, Rosh Hashana or other Jewish Holidays.

Anyway, I don’t think wishing me a Merry Christmas is some sort of plot to convert, marginalize, or insult me.  I don’t think that wishing me a Merry Christmas shows a lack of respect for my holidays and religion. It is simply part of the vernacular at this time of year. It is no different from saying have a nice day, take care, all the best.

An article regarding Christmas appeared in the Washington Post. The article noted a study done by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. It said, “And one in four American adults (26 percent), [say] Dec. 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.” It seems that this trend toward viewing Christmas in a secular manner has grown over the past 10 years.

So, there is even less reason to feel offended should you receive the greeting Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays.

And really, if I was so bothered by the wish of Merry Christmas, what would that say about my feelings regarding my religious beliefs? I’d say it would mean I am either uncomfortable, defensive, or uncertain.

The reality is I am none of those things. And if I were so uncomfortable with my religion or my religious choices, I could change them. However, I am very content religiously.

For the record, I am a Jew, and I identify with those who consider themselves Modern Orthodox. I observe the Sabbath, follow the kosher dietary rules, and keep my head covered at all times (other than when I am teaching in a public school where I feel it is not appropriate).

So, go ahead. Wish me Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Just wish me well. It’s all good.

23 thoughts on “Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? A Jew’s Opinion

  1. I really appreciated this post, Larry. I was interested in your perspective on “Merry Christmas” as a Modern Orthodox Jew.

    As a born again Christian, I have grieved over the secularization of the Christmas holiday season. Therefore, I make a point of saying “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.” I confess that I hadn’t really considered this from a Jewish perspective. Thank you for not taking offense at my lack of consideration. 🙂 I most surely wish you well!

  2. The question is whether someone wishes you Merry Christmas when they know you are Jewish. If you wear your yarmulke at all times, this is likely the case. And if they wish you Merry Christmas when they know you are Jewish, then it shows either 1) a lack of understanding of the deep religious significance of the holiday or 2) a disregard for your own religious beliefs.

    Despite the cultural trend to view it as an American celebration, Christmas has profound religious significance in its original intent as the birth of, according the Christianity, the birth of the Messiah. Their wishing you a Merry Christmas includes you in that celebration–which is at odds with your own belief system.

    This business of “Happy Holidays” is a recent phenomenon. There would be no alternative to a “Merry Christmas” 50 or 60 years ago, when Christianity was displayed and professed much more publicly in America. The real question is whether the tepid multi-cultural approach to the holidays, and in fact to anything sacred, will result in a watering down of religious beliefs and further secularization.

    I think I’d personally rather keep it real. Let people believe my faith is wrong and wish me a Merry Christmas. I’d rather have that than the attempt at politeness, which is really a superficial accommodation that has no significance whatsoever.

    • Alot in this statement. I will address the first part only. I think that the situation you describe when they wish you Merry Christmas when they know you are Jewish is rare. However, when it does happen I do believe people often simply are not sure what to say. It is rarely an evil thing.

  3. Great post, thanks. As an atheist with a Catholic background and some Jewish flavour, I really don’t care what people wish me as long as it’s something good 🙂 I’m just happy to enjoy the time off!

  4. I will wish you a Merry Christmas, because I love this time of year and the joy and good spirit. Now, I’ll also try to remember to wish you a Happy Hanukkah! But when I wish you Merry Christmas, it’s not out of spite, it’s not out of ignorance, it’s about me sharing my the love of my religion with you. Yes, the holiday itself has become very secular, but really, I’m okay with that, too. I know what it means to me and my faith. I’ll say both, but I will never worry about offending someone. Just like I won’t take offense if you ever wish me a Happy Passover or Merry Hanukkah. It’s you sharing the love of your faith. I think that it’s the spirit behind the greeting that counts more than what is said!

  5. Nice to hear your perspective on this. I usually just wait for the other person to say something, if I don’t know which way to go, and then follow suit. It might be cowardly, but at least it’s safe. I would hope that if I accidentally wished a Jewish person Merry Christmas he or she would be cool with it the way you are.

  6. I’m sure they’re out there, but I don’t know anyone who gets offended by “Merry Christmas.” I’m a non-practicing (except to appease my parents) non-believing Jew, but I still identity as Jewish. It seems to be “Happy Holidays” that some people view as an attack on their faith. I’d like to think these people are probably few and far between and mostly sit behind the Fox News desk. If someone wishes you a happy or merry anything, they’re usually trying to be nice. So be polite & say “thank you, you too!”

    • I have heard of people that get offended by Merry Christmas. I hear the argument but as you can tell I don’t think its necessary. Like you, I think people are simply trying to be nice.

  7. I’m a little late responding to this, but I will anyway. I used to work in a Christian bookstore, so Merry Christmas was a mandatory statement starting mid-Novemeber. Then I went to work at the public library. We were encouraged to say whatever we wanted as long as it was polite. Most of us chose Merry Christmas because that was the holiday we, as individuals, celebrated.
    I wished one woman Merry Christmas and she, rather snidely, replied, “You mean, Happy Holidays, don’t you?” I just smiled and said, “That too”.
    I remember reading an essay written by a Muslim man and he summed it up that when people say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kawanzaa, or Happy Ramadan they are you wishing blessings, peace and good will. He advised to accept their blessing with grace and dignity. I think he was very wise.

  8. The holidays have pushed my blog reading way out of the usual schedule, so I think it’s safe for me to skip it all and just wish you a Happy New Year!!

    I’m trying to catch up, I swear.

  9. Way too late, I’m afraid, but I’ve just seen it. I am a Jew in a country with a Catholic majority and a large number of anti-Semites who, to prove the contrary, boast of having “a Jewish friend.” Many of my acquaintances cannot identify my last name as Jewish, and it would be ludicrous to introduce myself saying, “Marta, a Jew.” I do, however, openly fight Antisemitism, as I fight all sorts of discrimination. Happy whatever, as has been said above, shows kind feelings on the part of the wisher, so I gladly accept the sentiment and reciprocate. The next discussion could be, are we ready to agree that Joshua’s (Jesus’) Christianity was a post-mortem event?

    • I applaud your fight against anti-Semitism. I am sure some people specifically say Merry Christmas to push their agenda but I do hope and believe that those numbers are low. Maybe, that is not the case in the country in which you reside.

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