Acton Institute Powerblog

‘The War on Christmas’

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“Oh Holiday tree, oh Holiday tree…”

“Happy Holidays” has become the accepted greeting in December. Even the White House has embraced “Happy Holidays” over the more traditional and Christian “Merry Christmas.” Understandably, many people are upset about the use of the word “holiday” rather than “Christmas.” I wanted to take a quick look at some traditions surrounding the December holidays, sorting out which situations should be using “Christmas” and which should be using “Holiday.”

First off, saying “Happy Holidays” is a very easy, quick, inoffensive and non-oppressive way to express greetings and love to a variety of people. December 25 is a day special to both Christians and Jews, who celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, respectively. December 26-January 1 is Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, both non-Christian celebrations. Therefore, it would make sense to use “Happy Holidays” to express festive greetings to those who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. It is definately quicker than saying “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa.” When the White House greeting card says, “With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005,” we can assume that rather than waging war against a traditional Christmas, the White House is simply acknowledging that different people are celebrating different holidays.

The same goes for store window signs, or for clerks working at stores (and other people that Rev. Jerry Falwell and the “religious [far] right” are angry at). Why shouldn’t they be able to acknowledge people who aren’t Christians by expressing joy about other cultural or religious celebrations?

Problems exist – I agree; but I think that these problems are more along the lines of cultural ignorance (I’ll quickly admit that I don’t know much about either Hanukkah or Kwanzaa). In the same way that we should be open to other cultural celebrations and holidays, we should be able to keep our own straight. The Christmas Tree (according to the much disputed Wikipedia) was appropriated by Christian missionaries from the German celebration of the Winter Solstice – the Yule. It remains a traditional (although not neccessarily Christian) element of Christmas – which is a Christian celebration; therefore we call the tree a Christmas tree. Logically, if the Christmas tree is adopted by other religions or cultures as elements of their celebrations (which the Christians did) then it would make sense for them to call it what they wanted – the “Kwanzaa tree” or the “Hanukkah tree.”

So – just to summarize – I have no problem with “happy holidays,” so long as you are referring to the holidays, and not to a specific holiday. If you’re talking about only Kwanzaa, say “Happy Kwanza.” Hanukkah? “Happy Hanukkah!” Its a “Menorah,” not a Holiday candle. Its a Christmas tree, not a Holiday tree.

Jonathan Spalink


  • hi,im not much on the jewish holidays though christians dont seem to fit in.and kwansa was a made up word back in the mid 60s to give the now african people in this country some simbolic simble of attachment to their homeland.

  • You should use whatever greeting you prefer, when addressing a person of unknown beliefs. If you are Christian, use Merry Christmas; Jew, Happy Hanukkah; agnostic or atheist, Happy Holidays.

    Similarly, consider your audience. If you are Christian, but addressing a known Jew, then use Happy Hanukkah.

    Kwanzaa is ridiculous and should be more offensive to blacks than to whites. To assume you have to devise your own holiday in order to establish your identity is to denote yourself as secondary to the core of the country.