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Want To Wish Me a Merry Christmas?

Be my guest! (Not that you owe it to me, just like you don't owe Orin a beer.)

I don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but so what? If you wish me a Merry Christmas, is it really reasonable for me to interpret this as a wish that I have a deep relationship with Jesus on this day? I rather doubt it -- "Merry [anything]" isn't much of a call for serious religious action or introspection. Nor is it an assumption that I'm religiously Christian. Everyone, certainly including religious Christians, knows that tens of millions of Americans, including those raised nominally Christian, don't celebrate it as a religious holiday.

Perhaps saying "Merry Christmas" is a reflection of the fact that most of America is culturally Christian, in the sense that it celebrates traditionally religious holidays. But that is indeed a fact. Saying "Happy Holidays" won't hide it, and saying "Merry Christmas" hardly rubs it in anyone's face (especially given the Santas and other paraphernalia you're in any event likely to see all around).

Moreover, Christmas is a day off for people without regard to religion (except for those who work in businesses that require them to work that day, there probably also largely without regard to religion, except for the comparatively devout). Chances are that your Jewish colleagues are doing something fun for Christmas. I am, and I had done that each year even before I married my culturally Christian wife. Why shouldn't we be merry on these occasions?

So if you tell me "Merry Christmas," good for you. If you tell me "Happy Holidays," I confess I'll get a bit annoyed because of its generic air, but I'll just assume that you're trying to play it safe -- often a very good strategy in social relations. Plus why be churlish about someone wishing you a happy anything? If you tell me "Happy Hanukkah," I'll start racking my brains about when Hanukkah actually is this year; I never have any idea. If you tell me "Happy Diwali," I'll assume that this is a good thing in your life, and I'll appreciate the good wishes. (If neither you nor I are Hindu, then I might wonder what you mean by that.) If you tell me "Happy New Year," my favorite greeting, I'll be extra pleased, but that's just a matter of taste.

So, Merry Christmas, everyone -- yeah, all you Russian Orthodox, too, I know all about your old calendar, but you're in a Gregorian country now, buddy. And best wishes for a happy new year!

Boblipton:
Chanukah is in progress even now -- December 25, 2008 is actually the fourth day of Chanukah this year, at least until sundown. So have a happy Chanukah while you're at it. Me, I'll have a potato pancake.

Bob
12.25.2008 8:38am
T Gracchus (mail):
Way off topic -- how does a president have power to revoke a pardon? I would have thought that, once granted, the pardon is complete. And why would the power to revoke lie only with the pardoning president? Or is it that the pardon was announced before execution?
12.25.2008 8:40am
Hey Skipper (mail) (www):
I happen to do a lot of traveling, and it never ceases to amaze me how thoroughly Christmas, in its purely secular version, has permeated humanity.

I was in Guanzhou, China, yesterday. Not a particularly westernized place, particularly with regard to Hong Kong or Shanghai.

Christmas decorations just about everywhere (in a large pedestrian shopping area anyway).

I'm in Almaty, Kazakhstan today. Not quite so prevalent, but obvious nonetheless.

Japan -- same.

I'll bet most of these people couldn't tell you the first thing about Christ.
12.25.2008 8:58am
JohnKT (mail):
Nothing wrong with "Merry Christmas." Christmas is a commercial festival of commodity fetishism whose connections with religion were lost long ago.

Happy sales to all.
12.25.2008 9:08am
Pragmaticist:
I agree. Though I don't say "Merry Christmas" to people I know who don't celebrate it, e.g., Orthodox Jews.
12.25.2008 9:10am
Sean M.:
Merry Christmas, professor!

Having been in college and now law school for the last six years, I have also found, "Have a great break!" is a great way to side-step the issue entirely in those two contexts. Everyone goes on winter break at the same time. Who doesn't want to have a great break?
12.25.2008 9:16am
first history:
Happy Festivus!
12.25.2008 9:23am
Bad (mail) (www):
"If you tell me "Happy Holidays," I confess I'll get a bit annoyed because of its generic air, but I'll just assume that you're trying to play it safe -- often a very good strategy in social relations. Plus why be churlish about someone wishing you a happy anything?"

But your confession of annoyance IS a form of churlishness: the usual trying to have it both ways. All of these terms are fine and dandy, and if people have preferences for saying one or the other, that's fine. You don't need to assume anything about someone wishing you well, and when you do, you become the very sort of stuffy humbug you think you're addressing this post too.
12.25.2008 9:59am
Elmore:
A Joyous Kwanzaa to all.
12.25.2008 10:00am
Teh Anonymous:
Hey Skipper, you're probably right about China and Japan. But Kazakhstan's about half Russian Orthodox. (Well, okay, 44%, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia.) Some of them must know something about the guy.
12.25.2008 10:01am
amnyc (mail) (www):
Perhaps you should wear this shirt around the law school to drum up the Christmas spirit.
12.25.2008 10:26am
Steve Lubet (mail):
С Новым годом
12.25.2008 10:31am
Milhouse (www):
Diwali was ages ago. If someone were today to wish me a happy Thanksgiving or Columbus Day I'd think it odd.

On the main issue, I agree with you. The proper response to "Merry Xmas" is "thank you". So long as it is said before Twelfth Night, that is.

Re: "Happy holiday", I don't think Xians ever say that; they always greet each other with the name of the specific holiday, so "happy holiday" sounds too generic and jarring. But Jews and Moslems are used to wishing each other just that: "gut yontiff", "hag sameah", "eid mubarak", are all generic greetings, good for any holiday.
12.25.2008 10:44am
Jerrod Ankenman:
You could always fall back on Happy Newtonmas.
12.25.2008 10:48am
therut (mail):
Merry Christmas to you and your family.
12.25.2008 10:50am
traveler496:
A Merry Christmas to you, from this athiest to a Jew.
12.25.2008 10:51am
Bob Leibowitz (mail) (www):
As a returned and practicing Catholic, I say "Merry Christmas" as a sign of caring for the listener. It's a break in the hurly-burly too busy hustle. It allows for personalization. It says "I care about you and wish you well." It affords sentimentality with which I'd otherwise be uncomfortable.

It's an appropriate sentiment for all my friends, of whatever religious persuasion or none at all. Similarly, I receive the good wishes expressed in the language of other religions with appreciation.

So, Eugene, Merry Christmas and thank you for adding to my life this year.
12.25.2008 10:54am
Randy R. (mail):
I love writing out Merry Xmas! It drives the conseratives who watch Fox News nuts.

And deservedly so. Xmas was created several centuries ago because X is the first letter in the Greek word for messiah. So, when people starting using Xmas, it was to honor Jesus not as a man, but as The Messiah.

So if anyone gives me grief about using Xmas, I give it right back to them, and surprisingly, they almost always shut up. I tell them that O'Reilly knows the truth, but he just wants you to get good and angry in this season of joy and brotherhood, and isn't that a bit ironic? Isn't that sort of liking "warring on Christmas"?

The irony is always lost on them.
12.25.2008 11:01am
notaclue (mail):
Milhouse, I'm one of those Christians, even a crazy conservative type (wipes drool from chin), and even I sometimes wish someone happy holidays. Can't speak for anyone else, but for me "holidays" means the culturally special time between Thanksgiving and the new year, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and whatever else falls in that time period.
12.25.2008 11:01am
notaclue (mail):
And I almost forgot: Merry Christmas to Prof. Volokh and all the conspirators, and to my fellow commenters as well!
12.25.2008 11:02am
David Warner:
EV,

"you're in a Gregorian country now, buddy"

That one tickles the funny bone. I've heard that this is a "Christian Nation", but never before which particular Christian. The collective Know Nothing Party just rolled over in their graves.
12.25.2008 11:03am
Moshe (mail):
I have no problem with someone wishing me a Merry Christmas - it doesn't bother or offend me in any way (although given the prominent placement of my Yarmulka on top of my head, it is a bit odd).

The only problem is that for my own religious reasons I can't wish someone the same in return, which creates an awkward situation. If I say happy New Year (which is religiously fine for me) the other person might get offended that I deliberately did not wish him a Merry Christmas (and not entirely without cause).

Happy Holidays, while bland and PC and annoying, actually makes it easier for me to respond without offending anyone, by saying something like "have a happy holiday season" which is obviously even more bland and less meaningful - which is precisely why, as an Orthodox Jew, it's okay for me to say.

So political correctness and touchy sensitivity run amok helps me out here. You want to be polite to people and you want to adhere to your own beliefs and religious laws - and you can't launch into a five minute explanation of the theological foundations of your religious law not to wish a Merry christmas - so the Happy Holidays greeting smoothes things out.
12.25.2008 11:22am
Sid Finkel (mail):
Eugene

Thank you for a very sensible posting.
12.25.2008 11:29am
Eli Rabett (www):
Happy Christmas
Joyous Christmas
Enjoyable Christmas
Felicitous Christmas
Wonderful Christmas

to all and you can reply a

Happy Christmas Holiday to you
Joyous Christmas Holiday to you
Enjoyable Christmas Holiday to you
Felicitous Christmas Holiday to you
Wonderful Christmas Holiday to you
12.25.2008 11:33am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Bad: The "I confess" doesn't mean I'll tell it to your face; that would indeed be churlish. I'll keep my annoyance deep down inside, where it won't bug you, but where I hope the better angels of my nature will eventually dissipate it. That is, except when I'm talking about all this in blog posts.

Moshe: I think it would take a very offense-happy person to be offended when his Merry Christmas is returned with a Happy New Year. There certainly is no rule of good manners that such statements have to be mirrored exactly; it's just considered nice to return them in kind, which Happy New Year amply does.

David Warner: Glad you liked the joke, but I thought there was a deeper joke there as well -- every country is a Gregorian country now.
12.25.2008 11:40am
BT:
Have a Funky Kwanzaa!!!
12.25.2008 11:40am
Milhouse (www):
Moshe, if you have scruples about wishing someone a merry Xmas, or even replying "you too", you can finesse it by replying "and a happy new year". Though given how secularised Xmas has become nowadays, and also given its original meaning (not just pre-Xian but pre-Roman, see AZ 8a), "you too" is probably religiously safe. And a simple "thank you" is always appropriate, even if you absolutely feel restrained from reciprocating; most of the time the person won't notice.
12.25.2008 11:41am
Johnny Canuck (mail):

yeah, all you Russian Orthodox, too, I know all about your old calendar, but you're in a Gregorian country now,


One year my mother and I were not ready for Christmas. I suggested that we declare ourselves Ukrainian and celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
Two extra weeks!
12.25.2008 11:43am
TerrencePhilip:
EV,

first, thank you for another GREAT year of VC blogging- the law's greatest free show on earth.

Second, just as an observation I think "Happy Holidays" has become the standard line in the legal profession. I hear it from other lawyers all the time. I said "merry Christmas" to someone the other day and moments later felt like I'd broken a very minor norm. Probably for the reasons you state, everyone should just get over it and not give a damn. Although I don't really get annoyed at "happy holidays" one way or the other. I don't much care for the James Dobson "War on Christmas enemies list" or for people who try to push everyone else to subscribe publicly to religion, but you can't hold well-meaning individuals responsible for all that merely by wishing you a merry Christmas.

On the 23rd I had a pretrial conference and at the end of it the judge told us "Merry Christmas, or happy holidays, whichever applies to you; I can never be sure." (!)
12.25.2008 11:44am
Guest12345:
I was in Guanzhou, China, yesterday. Not a particularly westernized place, particularly with regard to Hong Kong or Shanghai.

Christmas decorations just about everywhere (in a large pedestrian shopping area anyway).

I'm in Almaty, Kazakhstan today. Not quite so prevalent, but obvious nonetheless.

Japan -- same.


Who are you, Santa Claus?
12.25.2008 11:51am
Moshe (mail):
Milhouse - there are ways of responding that don't create offense but they are often times awkward to fit into the exact flow of conversation. The nice thing about standard greetings is that there are standard forms for responding - having to come up with a response to fit the moment can be difficult.

Eugene - I think you underestimate the degree to which people can and do get offended.

My point wasn't to argue that people should say Happy Holidays just because it helps me out. I was merely pointing out that it does, actually, help me out.
12.25.2008 11:54am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Have a great Heathen Yule, and may the new year bring you challenges and rewards.
12.25.2008 11:54am
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
I'm not Christian, but I say Merry Christmas (unless I know the person is Jewish, then I say Happy Hannukah) because (a) it is the Christmas holiday I'm getting off from work being celebrated and (b) this constant PC crap frosts my cookies.

Sometimes when I wish someone I don't know a Merry Christmas, I get a reply of "I'm not Christian," to which I smile and reply, "That's OK - neither am I" and go on my merry way.

I once replied to "I'm not Christian" with "Happy Hannukah, then," only to get a very annoyed "I'm not Jewish, either" in return. Since I'm not a very nice person, I replied "That's OK, Merry Bah Humbug" with a big smile and wandered away. Hope the jerk seethed the rest of the day. Whatever happened to "Thank You"?

A very merry Christmas and a happy Hannukah to you and your family, Eugene, and to all the Conspirators and commenters!

And a "Merry Bah Humbug" to those who deserve it. :-D
12.25.2008 12:00pm
roy:
And a Merry Christmas to you.

As an atheist, I feel about the same. I still actively celebrate Christmas, complete with Santa and a tree with a somewhat shame-faced angel on top. In my family, Christmas is more about family and generosity than it as about religion, and I didn't give that up when I started sleeping in on Sundays.
12.25.2008 12:04pm
TCO:
You guys are all right. Even Kerr.
12.25.2008 12:07pm
Alix Cavanaugh (mail) (www):
I picked up "Happy Christmas" when in England, and have kept doing it in the States. I have also added "Merry Hanukkah" and "Good New Year" to the corpus. It's fun to spread seasonal cheer whilst (1) making one's interlocutors do a slight double-take and (2) fighting, in however small a way, against the fossilization of perfectly good nouns, which can properly take all sorts of adjectives, into fixed clichés.
12.25.2008 12:10pm
KenB (mail):
Feliz Navidad y prospero ano nuevo.
12.25.2008 12:18pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I actually get kind of annoyed at the "Happy Holidays," too, not because it's PC, but because it's phony PC. It's really the same thing as Merry Christmas -- after all, nobody says it at any time except Christmastime -- but it's designed to pretend to be inclusive. (My least favorite is when you've got a place with a huge Christmas display -- Christmas tree, Christmas figures like Santa, etc. -- but then the sign says Happy Holidays, as though I'm supposed to pretend that it's really a "Holiday" tree.)

But what I really hate is when people who know I'm Jewish give me a "Happy Holidays," because they're too lazy to tailor their greeting to me.
12.25.2008 12:19pm
Dave N (mail):
Merry Christmas and I hope everyone here has a great holiday season--even those I find annoying.
12.25.2008 12:20pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Not that I make faces at those greeting me that way; I just grimace internally.
12.25.2008 12:20pm
Dave N (mail):
Way off topic -- how does a president have power to revoke a pardon? I would have thought that, once granted, the pardon is complete. And why would the power to revoke lie only with the pardoning president? Or is it that the pardon was announced before execution?
My understanding is that the pardon in question had been announced but not formally executed.
12.25.2008 12:23pm
The River Temoc (mail):
I once replied to "I'm not Christian" with "Happy Hannukah, then," only to get a very annoyed "I'm not Jewish, either" in return. Since I'm not a very nice person, I replied "That's OK, Merry Bah Humbug" with a big smile and wandered away. Hope the jerk seethed the rest of the day.

Perhaps you are the jerk for assuming that EVERYONE must be Christian or Jewish?
12.25.2008 12:29pm
David Matthews (mail):
"Perhaps you are the jerk for assuming that EVERYONE must be Christian or Jewish?"

I think you missed the point. There's nothing wrong with wishing or being wished a happy particular religious holiday, even if you aren't a member of that group. Nobody actually cares what your beliefs are, in making the greeting. It's just a generic: "Hey, have a great this-time-of-year (which happens to be Christmas. And it is Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not.)"

I used to live in a predominantly Muslim area, and it didn't bother me a bit to celebrate (the feasting, not the fasting, of) Ramadan (that was one of the perks of being a non-Muslim -- still got invited to the great after-sunset banquets of smoked fish and goat and mango soup and...., with none of the sacrifice), or wish or be wished a happy whatever Muslim holiday happened to be near. 'Cause if it's Eid, it's Eid, you know? My belief, or lack of belief, doesn't change the fact.

So, have a Merry Christmas, River Temoc! And a Happy Hannukah. And a joyous Solstice. And a great New Year (a month or so early, if you happen to be Chinese, but whatever.)
12.25.2008 1:00pm
Matt P (mail):


David M, Exceptional point , that's exactly how I feel, I just couldn't form it as well. 'Happy Holidays' is often a substitute for getting to know someone well enough to know what is actually 'happy' for them. If someone doesn't know me I'd prefer 'have a nice day'(although my response is usually along the line of 'just try and make me!').

Has anyone else noticed that there hasn't been as much 'War on Christmas' stuff this year? Maybe I've just been lucky enough to miss it.

Matt
12.25.2008 1:01pm
TRE:
You are right to interpret the general greeting of a random well wisher positively, but isn't it a little different when it isn't the checker at the supermarket, but someone you know to some degree?
12.25.2008 1:07pm
PabloF:
I grew up in a town on Long Island where everyone was largely Jewish, Irish Catholic or Italian Catholic. The high school choir would sing Hava Nagila right after Silent Night at the holiday concert (and this at a public school, no less!), creches and menorahs would be displayed side by side, and people would wish each other Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah. These were expressions of good will toward each other, and were taken as such.

And when I was in Abu Dhabi a few years ago on Eid-al-Fitr it felt good to be on the receiving end of a "Happy Eid!"

So when someone says Merry Christmas or Happy Passover, just enjoy the fact that someone is wishing you well, even if you don't celebrate the holiday.

Merry Christmas, Eugene, and belated Happy Eid!
12.25.2008 1:07pm
mariner:
Happy New Year, Professor.
12.25.2008 1:11pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Dave Matthews reads this blog?
12.25.2008 1:24pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Did others see Amazon.com's "12 Days of Holiday" special while it was up? That cracked me up. (They changed it to 12 days of Christmas, presumably because people were annoyed.)
12.25.2008 1:26pm
Arvin (mail) (www):
The only problem is that for my own religious reasons I can't wish someone [Merry Chirstmas] in return, which creates an awkward situation.

I'm very curious as to why this is. Could you elaborate?
12.25.2008 1:32pm
Joe Bingham (mail):

The only problem is that for my own religious reasons I can't wish someone [Merry Chirstmas] in return, which creates an awkward situation.




I'm very curious as to why this is. Could you elaborate?


It's because he celebrates Christmas, not Chirstmas.
12.25.2008 1:35pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
KenB:
I hope your gross obscenity was unintentional. 'New Year' in Spanish is 'Año Nuevo' with a tilde. 'Ano' has a whole 'nother meaning: let's just say that everyone has one, it's not an opinion, and very few of us have any need or desire for a new one.

Sorry if I let my love of puns and other linguistic oddities get the better of my Christmas spirit . . . .
12.25.2008 1:37pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
"Perhaps you are the jerk for assuming that EVERYONE must be Christian or Jewish?"

More likely, Temoc, perhaps I'm a jerk for assuming EVERYONE can't just say "Thank You" or "Happy New Year" or just smile and nod.

Did you miss the part where I said I'm not Christian? Why would you think I think EVERYONE else is? From the middle of December on, isn't it more likely I'm just going with the season, and the odds?

Merry Christmas to you, too.
12.25.2008 1:58pm
David Warner:
EV,

"every country is a Gregorian country now."

Dominionist!

What I don't understand is how the claim that these particular days are holy (holidays) is somehow less religious and thus less offensive than acknowledging the historical importance of these particular days to some obscure religious sect, out of which grew much merriment at this time of year in countries where that sect still has some bizarre vestigial effect on the culture.
12.25.2008 1:58pm
CB55 (mail):
I HATE PEOPLE (sung to the tune of I Hate People from Scrooge)


Scavengers and sycophants and flatterers
and fools
Pharisees and parasites and hypocrites
and ghouls
Calculating swindlers, prevaricating frauds
Perpetrating evil as they roam the earth
in hordes
Feeding on their fellow men
Reaping rich rewards
Contaminating everything they see
Corrupting honest me like me
Humbug! Poppycock! Balderdash! Bah!
I hate Christmas! I hate Christians!
Christmas is the the most despicable time of the year
A most loathesome inexplicable month of the year
A Good-for-nothing kickable time of the year
I hate Christmas! I abhor it!
When I see those cherry faces
I want each to bend and kick their
Indolent asses while they
Gulp ale from holly glasses
I hate Christmas! I detest it! I deplore it!
Fools who have no money spend it
Get in debt then try to end it
Beg me on their knees befriend them
Knowing I have cash to lend them
Soft-hearted me! Hard-working me!
Clean-living, thrifty and kind as can be!
Situations like this are of interest to me
I hate Christmas! I loathe Christmas! I despise and abominate Christmas all through the year!
Life is full of cretinous wretches
Earning what their sweatiness fetches
Empty minds whose pettiness stretches
Further than I can see
Little wonder I hate Christians
And I don't care if Christians hate me!


Best Wishes, Mister Scrooge. Every Christian should drown in his or her own eggnogg with a holly through his tongue.
12.25.2008 2:05pm
kimsch (mail) (www):
I grew up in Highland Park, IL and we sang Christmas Carols and Hymns, the Driedel song, Hava Nagila, and Hanukkah O Hanukkah (and we all danced the Hora) at school from 1st grade through High School. We all wished each other Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah no matter which holiday was personally celebrated. I knew several families that had a Menorah and a Christmas Tree and celebrated both holidays. The high school auditorium was used for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah services even on a school day when us Christians were in school and we saw our Jewish friends come to services and leave again.

So, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and I wish a Happy, Healthy and prosperous New Year to all.
12.25.2008 2:07pm
Milhouse (www):

But what I really hate is when people who know I'm Jewish give me a "Happy Holidays," because they're too lazy to tailor their greeting to me.

I just assume they don't know the name of whichever holiday is coming up, or don't want to attempt pronouncing it. Or, if it's Tishri, I assume they're wishing that all the holidays of that season be happy for me. In any case, I'm used to being wished a "gut yontiff" or a "hag sameah" without the specific "yontiff" or "hag" being specified, so why should the same greeting in English be different?
12.25.2008 2:08pm
some dude:
It doesn't actually make much sense to wish someone a Merry Christ mass who will not be partaking in a mass this season, but it's about The Holiday™ and not being strictly common-sensical.

Merry Christmas!
12.25.2008 2:12pm
Random Commenter:
"Feliz Navidad y prospero ano nuevo."


Good slogan to post in the colostomy ward at this time of year.
12.25.2008 2:30pm
MikeS (mail):

I actually get kind of annoyed at the "Happy Holidays," too, because for me "Peace on Earth, Good Will towards Men" means "Trump up phony reasons to get annoyed with people I dislike."


Fixed.
12.25.2008 3:20pm
Frater Plotter:
Good slogan to post in the colostomy ward at this time of year.
Yep.

For those who don't get it, "ano" is anus; "año" is year. So don't go around wishing people a happy new anus unless you really mean it.

(Likewise, if a "millennium" (mille-annus) is a thousand years, a "millenium" (mille-anus) is a thousand ... yeah, that. And as for the Mazda Millenia, well, that was just dumb.)
12.25.2008 3:23pm
Hey Skipper (mail) (www):
Teh Anonymous:


But Kazakhstan's about half Russian Orthodox. (Well, okay, 44%, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia.) Some of them must know something about the guy.


Good point -- the Soviet era could not have eliminated that. However, I see signs of secular Christmas everywhere: trees, Santas, decorations, etc.

Not a sign of Christ, though.

Secular Christmas is like English: it's gone everywhere.

++++

Guest 12345


Who are you, Santa Claus?


No, pilot.
12.25.2008 4:20pm
LM (mail):
Merry Xmas to everyone.

(If there's a labarum in the Windows character maps, I couldn't find it.)
12.25.2008 4:27pm
Federal Dog:
I hope this formats right. Best to all!


+
"X"
"XXX"
"XXXXX"
"GOD JUL"
"BUON ANNO"
"FELIZ NATAL"
"JOYEUX NOEL"
"VESELE VANOCE"
"MELE KALIKIMAKA"
"NODLAG SONA DHUIT"
"BLWYDDYN NEWYDD DDA"
"""BOAS FESTAS"""
"FELIZ NAVIDAD"
"MERRY CHRISTMAS"
"KALA CHRISTOUGENA"
"VROLIJK KERSTFEEST"
"FROHLICHE WEIHNACHTEN"
"BUON NATALE-GODT NYTAR"
"HUAN YING SHENG TAN CHIEH"
"WESOLYCH SWIAT-SRETAN BOZIC"
"MOADIM LESIMHA-LINKSMU KALEDU"
"HAUSKAA JOULUA-AID SAID MOUBARK"
"""N PRETTIG ERSTMIS"""
"ONNZLLISTA UUTTA VUOTTA"
"Z ROZHDESTYOM KHRYSTOVYM"
"NADOLIG LLAWEN-GOTT NYTTSAR"
"FELIC NADAL-GOJAN KRISTNASKON"
"S NOVYM GODOM-FELIZ ANO NUEVO"
"GLEDILEG JOL-NOELINIZ KUTLU LSUM"
"EEN GELUKKIG NIEUWJAAR-SRETAN OSIC"
"KRIHSTLINDJA GEZUAR-KALACHRISTOUGENA"
"SELAMAT HARI NATAL - LAHNINGU NAJU METU"
"SARBATORI FERICITE-BUON ANNO"
"ZORIONEKO GABON-HRISTOS SE RODI"
"BOLDOG KARACSONNY-VESELE
"MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR"
"ROOMSAID JOULU PUHI -KUNG HO SHENG TEN"
"FELICES PASUAS - EIN GLUCKICHES NEUJAHR"
"PRIECIGUS ZIEMAN SVETKUS SARBATORI VESLLE"
"BONNE ANNEE BLWYDDYN NEWYDD DDADRFELIZ NATAL"
12.25.2008 5:17pm
Federal Dog:
Shoot. It didn't format correctly: Everything justified to the left. Correctly formatted, it's a Christmas tree made of greetings. Anyway, I wish everyone the best.
12.25.2008 5:19pm
Mike Haas (mail):
Some people are so churlish. I bet you don't appreciate the Spanish Inquisition either. What do we have to do? I think when people say America has a Judeochristian heritage you should take a clue. Wish your acquaitances 'Happy New Year' on Yom Kippur and suggest to your 'family' there is some public invitation to Yom Kippur or a broadcast of it and not an ersatz one. Maybe you'll then feel liberated and not unhappy when the successors to the Romans wish you Merry Christmas on the day which traditionally hopes, on the darkest day of the year, that the sun will not die but be born again.
12.25.2008 5:26pm
Jim Gutel (mail):
Great post, Professor Volokh, I hope you are having a merry Christmas and will have a happy and prosperous New Year.
12.25.2008 5:41pm
Perry Dane:
At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I'll just refer anyone who's interested to my little talk on the complicated interplay of the secular and religious aspects of "Christmas." The talk is purportedly about the constitutional treatment of Christmas, but I think it's also relevant to the sort of interpersonal questions that Eugene is raising.
12.25.2008 5:50pm
JFred (mail):
Hanukkah is the 25th of Kislev, this year (5769) and every year.

But you knew that.
12.25.2008 6:11pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
By the peak of the mandatory shopping season, around Festivus, I'm getting somewhat ornery and fed up with being told when to have my major holidays. Wish me a Merry Christmas and I'll thank you, or Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings that's fine. Happy New Year works if there's a school break or plant shutdown and I won't see you until after New Year.
But unless you wished me a Gut Yontif throughout the year, and so forth, please don't tell me that Chanukah is the most important holiday in my calendar. I don't need your tokenism.
(That goes double for the school Christmas pageant. At least have the balls, and give me the respect, not to pretend that it's not something that it is.)
12.25.2008 6:34pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
"Everything justified to the left"

It's nice of you to wish Lefties around the world a Merry Christmas, Federal Dog. ;-p
12.25.2008 7:21pm
LM (mail):

But unless you wished me a Gut Yontif throughout the year, and so forth, please don't tell me that Chanukah is the most important holiday in my calendar. I don't need your tokenism.

I agree, but that's our fault, not theirs.
12.25.2008 9:02pm
Fub:
Federal Dog wrote at 12.25.2008 5:19pm:
Anyway, I wish everyone the best.
I'll second that.

After an afternoon feast with friends, augmented by an unpretentious but sneaky little cabernet, I'll just wish everyone seasoned greetings.
12.26.2008 12:45am
Mikhail Koulikov (mail):
So, Merry Christmas, everyone -- yeah, all you Russian Orthodox, too, I know all about your old calendar, but you're in a Gregorian country now, buddy

...Unless we read you from elsewhere.

(...which I don't, but as long as I have my Russian passport on me, I can imagine/pretend I'm back in Moscow)

A tak, s nastupayuschim!

...And may *you* never have to end up in Moscow the week after New Year's.

- Mikhail Koulikov
12.26.2008 1:24am
Syd Henderson (mail):

Moshe (mail):
I have no problem with someone wishing me a Merry Christmas - it doesn't bother or offend me in any way (although given the prominent placement of my Yarmulka on top of my head, it is a bit odd).

The only problem is that for my own religious reasons I can't wish someone the same in return, which creates an awkward situation. If I say happy New Year (which is religiously fine for me) the other person might get offended that I deliberately did not wish him a Merry Christmas (and not entirely without cause).


Why can't you wish them happiness in celebrating their holiday? I'm not Jewish, but I wish you a happy Hanukkah in all its various English spellings.
12.26.2008 1:26am
gerbilsbite:
It really annoys you that I don't want to have to add "...and have a happy New Year" and instead prefer to just get all Solstice-abutting holidays out of the way in one fell swoop? Okay, but it's more laziness than an attempt to "play it safe." Hell, maybe wishing you well is something I'd rather do in two words than in a compound sentence--is that such a sin?
12.26.2008 1:32am
GainesvilleGuest (mail):
"If you wish me a Merry Christmas, is it really reasonable for me to interpret this as a wish that I have a deep relationship with Jesus on this day? I rather doubt it — "Merry [anything]" isn't much of a call for serious religious action or introspection."

And if someone does wish you Merry Christmas as a wish that you have a deep relationship with Jesus on that day?

I would expect this is precisely what many religious Christians mean when they say it.
12.26.2008 1:37am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
LM says I agree, but that's our fault, not theirs. (that Chanukah is not the Jewish Christmas.)

I'm doing my part. My half-breed children get Christmas-sized gifts for Christmas, and the traditional tokens and practical and small-cash gifts while they get to look at all the candles (this time of year; other times of year things are commemorated appropriately.)

Which has basically sent the message "Your holiday sucks. Mom's is much cooler."
12.26.2008 2:02am
LM (mail):
David Chesler,

I may have misunderstood your original comment, but I meant it's our fault that Chanukah=>Christmas is considered a relevant comparison at all. I grew up in New York City, where the public schools closed on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. I assume that originated because there wouldn't have been enough teachers on those days to make classes worthwhile, but that's also indicative that it's a legitimate recognition of what's important to Jews.

It never occurred to me when I sang Christmas carols in a public school where most of the students and teachers were Jewish that we were somehow being discriminating against. And I was never confused into thinking Christmas might be a public holiday because of its proximity on the calendar to Chanukah. But it did occur to me when I started seeing "Chanukah bushes" in friends' homes that there was something amiss.

As a strongly pro-separation of Church and State liberal who finds a lot to recommend in multi-culturalism, it just rankles me how those liberal principles get trivialized and undermined by petty attacks on Christmas Trees and caroling, and by similar attempts to create false equivalences, like between Chanukah and Christmas. And it wasn't goyim who forced that on us.
12.26.2008 3:46am
Chief Overlord (mail):
Everyone on this site is so predictable. Especially you Eugene.

At what age do smart people feel they have to set their opinions in stone and predictably follow the exact policies of their chosen political ideology?

Sad.

*wishing for some confusion*
12.26.2008 6:46am
Fub:
Chief Overlord wrote at 12.26.2008 6:46am:
Everyone on this site is so predictable.
We all knew you'd say that.

Hope Bodhi day brought you blessings earlier this month. And if Budai hasn't given you any stuff this year, you can still celebrate the taking of Trenton today.
12.26.2008 8:44am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Chief - of course it's predictable. That's what's nice about the holidays (any holidays) - you follow the same traditions year after year.

LM: I agree with you. It's the equivalencing that I object to. Here in overwhelmingly Christian flyover country, however, the inclusion of Chanukah in the Christmas pageant feels much more like tokenism. They might be looking around to see what Jews do around this time of year (so yes, it is the fault of some Jews), but there just aren't enough Jews right here to be driving it.

One year the Christmas pageant even included a song that had words to the effect that everyone has a holiday at this time of year.

A co-worker, a good guy who has lived in lots of places, said something this year that indicated he didn't realize the Islamic calendar retrogresses relative to the solar calendar. So even less than there isn't a Jewish Christmas, there isn't an Islamic Christmas.

It would be more honest for Jews to bring a tannenbaum (the tree, not the late and also-ecumenical Rabbi Marc) into the house, and enjoy the Roman and Pagan traditions that the Christians have already co-opted. That's what the family of my kids' Turkish godmother does.

(FWIW, the NYC Bd of Ed only added the High Holy Days as school holidays around 1972. That was probably close to the peak of the Jewish population among the staff, but well after the peak in the student body. Which is further evidence of anti-Semitism: until then, Christmas might have beaten Chanukah, but Jews got off more days from school. :-) )
12.26.2008 9:06am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I just assume they don't know the name of whichever holiday is coming up, or don't want to attempt pronouncing it. Or, if it's Tishri, I assume they're wishing that all the holidays of that season be happy for me. In any case, I'm used to being wished a "gut yontiff" or a "hag sameah" without the specific "yontiff" or "hag" being specified, so why should the same greeting in English be different?
Because in each case, the holiday in question is implicit? And in English, it ain't Chanukah. Particularly since (as I mentioned earlier) the expression is used solely at Christmastime. (When Chanukah's already over and people are still saying it, it's pretty obvious that they're referring to the Xmas.)

As for making a big deal of it, I don't. But if someone went around wishing me "Happy Birthday" on their birthday because they were too lazy or uncaring to figure out when mine was, I wouldn't exactly take it as sincere. (This applies to people who know me, not to random clerks at the cash register, since for them I already know the greeting is not intended to be sincere so I don't take offense.)
12.26.2008 9:56am
Hoosier:
Doesn't anyone want to wish me a happy Name Day?

I'm not Orthodox. But still.
12.26.2008 10:06am
Yankev (mail):

One year the Christmas pageant even included a song that had words to the effect that everyone has a holiday at this time of year.
Can someone please tell me what Hava Nagila (a modern secular song from Israel) has to do with Chanukah? It's more akin to Meher Baba -- "Be happy, be happy", followed by several different ways of expressing the same sentiment.

Robert Osbourne on Turner Classic Movies told the audience that TCM was showing Exodus, Yentl and I forget what else in celebration of Chanukah. None of those movies had anything to do with Chanukah -- TCM just ran any movie they could think of with a JEwish theme. (No Frisco Kid? No Mad Advesnture of Rabbi Jacob? Operation Thunderbolt?)

In both cases, the message seems to be "We don't know much about our Jewish neighbors but we want to recognize that you're here and you're welcome and we don't want you to feel left out at this time of year, so this is for you."

Cf. Lenny Bruce's "How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties." Also cf. Gabe Kaplan's "Ed Sullivan's Last Show ("For all you Jews in the audience . . . ")


So those who wish me merry (or happy) anything this season, thank you, though I suspect you have your holidays in mind much more than you have mine.
12.26.2008 10:41am
pete (mail) (www):
Have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwaazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified, Ramadan.
12.26.2008 10:44am
Yankev (mail):
And to those of you still in your seats, perhaps the definitve word on seasonal greetings —

As an El-Al plane lands at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, the voice of the Captain comes over the PA system:


"Please remain seated with your seat belts fastened until this plane is at a complete standstill and the seat belt signs have been turned off. We also wish to remind you that using cell phone on board the aircraft is strictly prohibited."


"For those who are seated, we wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that you enjoy your stay...and to those of you standing in the aisle and talking on their cell phones, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, and welcome back home."

http://goysahoy.blogspot.com/2007/12/christmas-laugh.html
12.26.2008 10:49am
Mark E.Butler (mail):
Merry Christmas, Prof. Volokh!

As to Japan and their "Christmas":

In Japanese, "Christ" is written KIRISUTO (I tried to paste the kana here, but it wouldn't work) and "Christmas" is written KURISUMASU. I suspect that the difference in the way the words are rendered in Japanese is alone sufficient to prevent any suspicion that the day has anything to do with Christ.
12.26.2008 10:54am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I think David Nieporent's Happy Birthday analogy, and Yankev's "we don't want you to feel left out" pretty well cover it. (Today is Boxing Day, the gentiles are returning to normal, so today I'm closer to Yankev's point of view.)

(I guess the latter also explains why the supermarket puts out the matzoh for every Jewish holiday.)
12.26.2008 11:15am
dcuser (mail):
s'Novym Godym!
12.26.2008 11:17am
Yankev (mail):

I think David Nieporent's Happy Birthday analogy, and Yankev's "we don't want you to feel left out" pretty well cover it.
All in all, it's a whole lot better than the attitude my family encountered in Russia under the Tsars, y'mach shemam.
12.26.2008 11:25am
Yankev (mail):

Why can't you wish them happiness in celebrating their holiday?

Syd, we can and do. But by wishing them Merry etc. I would be implying that the man whose birth is being celebrated fits the description that the name of the holiday uses for him. Trust me, any more dtail about that particular issue would introduce a very discordant note that would be contrary to the spirit of this thread and probably unsuitable for discussion at VC in general. Just try to accept the response of "Happy holidays" as meant in good will and with no intent at offense.
12.26.2008 11:39am
David Warner:
Hoosier,

"Doesn't anyone want to wish me a happy Name Day?"

Hoosiers are already happy all the time anyway, in a modest, understated way, of course. But go ahead and continue to be happy on your name day, whatever your name is.
12.26.2008 11:48am
rayabacus:
I will gladly accept whatever good wishes in whatever form anyone wants to bestow upon me and certainly not be offended. It is just too sad that I get these wishes all lumped together at one time of the year.
12.26.2008 12:10pm
Festooned with Christmas tree ornaments:
I just use happy holidays because it covers new years' as well as x-mas, not for any PC reason. I suspect it's the same for many folks.
12.26.2008 12:22pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Yankev:
No doubt calling the day Christmas does imply that "the man whose birth is being celebrated fits the description that the name of the holiday uses for him", but how is that a problem? The name means "Anointed One" and there is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was anointed on more than one occasion. There are some names that would be problems for non-Christians to say. Here are some examples off the top of my head, in increasing order of offensiveness:

Birth of the Savior Day
Birth of Our Savior Day
Birth of Everyone's Savior Day
Birth of the Messiah Day
Birth of the Messiah (Who Do You Think You're Waiting For?) Day
Birth of the Messiah (Only Fools Still Wait for Another) Day

. . . and so on. Examples could easily be multiplied.

But use of the name 'Christ', while definitely complimentary, does not imply faith in him (or Him, as some would have it). Similarly, many (though obviously not all) Popes can be called 'his holiness' without any Catholic or Christian belief, as long as the speaker accepts the concept of holiness and doesn't restrict it to his own religion. The same goes, mutatis mutandis, for the Dalai Lama.
12.26.2008 1:00pm
Yankev (mail):

The name means "Anointed One"
which in English is messiah, which is Anglicised from moshiach, which in Hebrew means "annointed." With the implication that he is THE messiah -- a belief that I do not hold and am prohibited from affirming. When you add certain other aspects that were never part of the Jewish concept of the messiah but that have become part and parcel of the majority religion since at least the time that the Nestorians were declared to be heretical, well, I'll pass, thank you.


It's not that I find the list you posted offensive; it's that each item on the list, from the first to the last, is runs against my beliefs, pretty much in equal measure, and that my religion -- in equal measure -- prohibits me from believing or affirming. So I hope you will be no more offended by my "Happy holidays", "enjoy your holiday" or "Season's greetings" than I am by your Christmas wishes for me.
12.26.2008 1:58pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Ah, I was unaware of the Hebrew meaning of Messiah, or rather of its etymology. Was 'Christos' used to mean Messiah when devout Jews wrote in Greek?
12.26.2008 2:11pm
Lucius Cornelius:
My Jewish mother gave me some information that I think I should share with everyone here.

Orthodox Jews pronounce it "Channukah."
Conservative Jews pronounce it "Hannukah."
Reformed Jews pronounce it "Christmas."

I am a secular Jew. I don't mind any of the seasonal greetings, even "Happy holidays." Maybe it is because I am old enough to remember people saying that before PC became annoying.

I suppose the idea of Kwanzaa gets me a little annoyed since it is a manufactured holiday. I never even heard of it until the mid 90s. But I keep my annoyance to myself.
12.26.2008 3:33pm
David Matthews (mail):
What a coincidence.

One of my daughters sent me a Kwanzaa bear.

I just got it about ten minutes ago via UPS.

I just now opened it.

I still love her.
12.26.2008 3:42pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Reformed Jews pronounce it "Christmas."
There are no "Reformed Jews" (though there may be reformed ones); the movement is Reform Judaism, not Reformed Judaism.
12.26.2008 4:25pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Doesn't anyone want to wish me a happy Name Day?


Hey, may family always celebrates my name day and we aren't orthodox. Who wouldn't celebrate a name day that involves cookies?
12.26.2008 4:42pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Yankev:

With the implication that he is THE messiah -- a belief that I do not hold and am prohibited from affirming. When you add certain other aspects that were never part of the Jewish concept of the messiah but that have become part and parcel of the majority religion since at least the time that the Nestorians were declared to be heretical, well, I'll pass, thank you.


I am interested in your views on this. Every Jewish source I have ever read about Jewish views of the Messiah seem to suggest that the story-line was largely to perpetuate the influence that Cyrus had on Israel. Would you agree that Cyrus manifested patterns of "the Messiah" in his day from a Jewish perspective? Are there modern parallels?
12.26.2008 6:09pm
Mike Haas (mail):
I guess with Yankev's help and 'Merry etc.' I see the problem better. However what if in my language etc=Christmas. What do you do then? How many speakers of that language do there have to be? Does the language have to be traceable to before 1831? What if in some language Zoloft=Christmas? Can you not take in a prescription for Zoloft? Are you going to trust Pfizer to have researched all the possible language meanings? Are you safe if you don't know the meaning of a word? I myself didn't know the 'meaning' of the word 'Christ' though if you were Fitzgerald and I were Libby I would probably tell you it was an honorific. If in my previous state of ignorance, I wished you 'Merry Christmas' would that be OK? Maybe have a comradely 'Good luck with Jesus' in return.
12.26.2008 11:22pm
tired Catholic mom:
Eugene,
Merry Christmas! I wish your voice of reason had been in my home on Christmas day and the day following.

My adult children were here. Officially, they were raised Catholic. But now, "Christmas" has become a code word for "Let's debate Mom and Dad about religion, and let's explain to them that they believe in fairy tales."

Bad enough to encourage me to spend my next Christmas with homeless bums on the street! At least if say "Merry Christmas" to one and give him a stack of gifts, he's not likely to want to debate religion with me.
12.27.2008 2:20am
loafingoaf (mail):
This only became an issue of late, because certain people have been trying to manufacture a "war against Christmas" controversy.

Before then, someone saying "Happy Holidays" was perfectly nice.

It still is, to me

Anyone wishing me a happy or merry anything is nice to me, if it's sincere.

No controversy at all.

Unless you watch too much right-wing media. And the bloggers who do are spending enormous amounts of time and energy worrying about whether people say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas". Get a grip.
12.27.2008 6:04am
Lucius Cornelius:
<b>David:</b>

Well, "Bah humbug" to you!
12.27.2008 10:34am
loki13 (mail):
Here's my quick take-

those looking for offense will manage to find it. I find explanations (like David M. N's, above) unpersuasive, because the majority of well-wishers are strangers and unaware of how we celebrate the *holidays*. Yes, it is nice for close friends to personalize the greetings to make them appropriate for our religious observations, but it is a little harder for random well-wishers to do so.

Having once worked retail, I realize that this is an area fraught with importance to those who are looking for the smallest opportunity to take offense. Wish them a "Happy Holidays" and you're committing the first major offensive of the "War on Christmas". Wish them a "Merry Christmas" and you've established Christian Dominion over their lives.

Amazingly enough, having also once lived in an overwhelmingly Islamic country, I never took offense to those wishing me a Happy Eid.

It is not the words, it is the sentiment of the person saying it. If it is given in good cheer, it should be taken in good cheer. Anything more is an exercise in self-important obnoxiousness.
12.27.2008 12:37pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
loki13:

Having once worked retail, I realize that this is an area fraught with importance to those who are looking for the smallest opportunity to take offense. Wish them a "Happy Holidays" and you're committing the first major offensive of the "War on Christmas". Wish them a "Merry Christmas" and you've established Christian Dominion over their lives.


Somehow I think a lot of people worried about a wa on Christmas are worried abotu a LACK of Christian dominion over our lives. Of course, Christianity largely amounts to a strange amalgam of Judaism, Mithraism, and traditional Indo-European pagan traditions......

However, let's look at this carefully.... Christmas was placed where it was on the calendar in order to co-opt various seasonal festivals. Dec. 25th is Mithra's Birthday, for example. Also such customs as the yule log seem to be purely pagan, and the Christmas Tree was controversial for at least the first few hundred years we have records of it. Oliver Cromwell, for example, condemned it as a heathen custom.

There is also reason to see the older Yule celebration as a sacred consumption of the best things. Hence the idea (very similar to the Chinese New Year) was likely to have been the giving away and consuming the best of what one had in order to bring prosperity to the next year.

Interestingly, the major imagery we have of Santa Claus was constructed by Coca Cola Corp. and hence we even have our seasonal commercial gods.

So when we strip out all these things, I suspect that, at most, any uniquely Christian element to the celebration is going to the church service, and everything else is heathenry. My heathenry.
12.27.2008 1:37pm
Perseus (mail):
There are no "Reformed Jews" (though there may be reformed ones); the movement is Reform Judaism, not Reformed Judaism.

I thought that Christianity was Reformed Judaism.
12.27.2008 3:22pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I thought that Christianity was Reformed Judaism.
In the same way that BCRA is "reformed" campaign finance, I guess.
12.27.2008 8:33pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Ehhh, forget the greetings.
Eugene, I owe you a beer.

Nick
12.27.2008 9:37pm
Eli Rabett (www):
The major imagery of Santa Claus was constructed by Thomas Nast.
12.27.2008 11:55pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
This only became an issue of late, because certain people have been trying to manufacture a "war against Christmas" controversy.

Darn you, Theodore Geisel and your garlic-eating Grinch.
12.28.2008 12:57pm

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