Merry Christmas, You Godless Jerk

I have a difficult time expressing how extraordinarily stupid I think this whole “Happy Holidays”/”Merry Christmas” thing that’s going on this year is, not in the least because, for those of you who slept through remedial etymology, “holiday” means “holy day.” Which is an awfully funny word to have representing secularism, if you ask me. People who complain that saying “Happy Holidays” somehow disenfranchises Christians are basically showing their profound ignorance of language, which is not exactly a reassuring thing when so many of these same folks also maintain that the Bible is literally true.

Here’s the deal. Wish me a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Either way, I’ll get what you mean, I’ll take it in the spirit in which it is given, and in either case, you’re likely to get the same response (i.e., “Thanks. You too.”). On the other hand, wish me a “Merry Christmas” with that defiant air that means that you are driving your Christ-sticky foot into the ground and digging in against the godless forces of “Happy Holidays,” and what you’re declaring is that you are, indeed, a first-class idjit. It also signals that you’re less interested in wishing me joy and glad tidings than in pimping the baby Jesus, in the guise of being nice. So not only are you a first class idjit, you’re also rude. If you’re going to wish me a Merry Christmas, try to mean it, for Christ’s sake.

How will I know which “Merry Christmas” you will offer to me? Well, of course, maybe I won’t. Being the sort of person I am, I’ll assume you mean well. It’s that “Golden Rule” thing you hear so much about. However, you will know which “Merry Christmas” you are offering, and, one imagines, so will the birthday boy in question. A thought to consider.

(So, you ask, which do I use? Personally, I tend to go with “Merry Christmas,” because that’s the holiday I celebrate, and also, as previously mentioned, I don’t think you have to be Christian to recognize that Jesus’ birth is worth celebrating. Also, in rural Ohio, it’s a safe bet. However, for people I know who prefer not to be Merry Christmassed, “Happy Holidays” works fine, although sometimes I will get cheeky and say “have an enjoyable seasonal celebration of your preference!” which both celebrates and mocks the situation. But I only use that for special people. You know who you are.)

(Oh, and before I forget, Happy Solstice to one and all!)

49 Comments on “Merry Christmas, You Godless Jerk”

  1. Happy Christmas.

    Because I’ve been around people doing Recreation theatre for Victorian London for the last month. I actually much prefer that to Merry Christmas.

  2. Merry Hanuchristmakwanzaakah! Gads, I hate that commercial. I think Mr. Finley had a point there. If Christians let it get to them, they lose the point and spirit of Christmas, which is the true loss. But as for me and my house, we wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.

  3. Most excellent, John! It’s Happy Holidays from me, because unless you celebrate 12 days of Christmas, poor ol’ New Year’s gets left out of the equation.

  4. Well as it happens I’ve said it to you once already, but I’ll say it again, a very merry christmas to you and yours! Now that’s coming from a jew and going to an atheist, does that matter? Neither one of us celebrates xmas religiously, but does that lessen its historical significance? More importantly does it change that this is a rare opportunity to foster just a small bit of joy and happiness in the world? Of course not, and still you have people who are determined to turn a joyous event into another excuse to have an argument, their own personal war against everyone who doesn’t think Just Like Them. Now there’s something to say Bah Humbug to!

  5. Actually, I’m not an atheist, I’m agnostic, since I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a God. But otherwise, yes. Thanks! You too!

  6. I prefer the term “Happy Holidays,” because it is more inclusive. I’d like to wish you a merry time whatever holidays you celebrate. Plus, “Merry Christmas, Blessed Hannukah, Joyous Kwanzaa, and a Happy New Year” is a bit awkward to say every time somebody rings up my purchases, and there’s always the chance that I’ll miss one.

    Now, if I know that somebody celebrates a specific holiday, then I would be more than happy to wish them a joyous time of it, even if I don’t celebrate it. Obstinately wishing people a Merry Christmas, in blatant disregard of whatever holidays they do or do not celebrate is a bit like going around once each year and saying “I hope you are enjoying my birthday today.”

    That being said, sometimes you can hedge your bets a bit. If you live in rural Ohio, “Merry Christmas” is probably a good bet. Cleveland area, however, we’re probably a bit safer wishing people a generic “Happy Holiday.”

    But whatever you celebrate, I hope that it is a blessed time for you and yours.


  7. Here’s one thing that gets me….the article you linked says this:

    “Christians are drawing a line in the snow this season against any further secular encroachment on their most significant religious holiday.”

    Christians who feel this way are, um, misguided. Yes, the virgin birth and heralding angels and the three wise guys (a joke, relax) and all that – I get that.

    But, the real miracle of Jesus’s life (assuming you’re a believer – I am) is not his birth, it is his resurection. That’s what Christians are (or at least should be) shooting for. Not that celebrating the birthday is a bad thing, mind you. But it is most definitely *not* the “most significant religious holiday” in Christiandom.

    Christians who make the argument being debated here are more likely doing the whole “driving your Christ-sticky foot into the ground and digging in” thing than anything else.

    And they should knock it off and lighten up.

    I blame it all on George Bush, of course.

  8. Oh, and Merry Christmas Scalzi Family. I’ll be reading my two boys your stories from last year’s RIF fundraiser all week!

  9. “I blame it all on George Bush, of course.”

    Who said “Happy Holidays” recently!

    Yeah, Easter. It fascinates me (I have an Easter column somewhere in the archives).

  10. I was driving to a holiday gig in Monroe, GA the other day when I noticed a church sign in Campton, GA, saying:

    I had no *idea* we’d outlawed a Federal Holiday this year!

  11. Your writing buddy Lileks claims that he gets a bad reaction from store employees when he wishes them “Merry Christmas,” so even he has jumped on the martyr express. This deminishes my already lower than average opinion of him.

    Apparently he expects a better attitude from the serfs.

    Christians used to worry about the mote in their eye, but lately I think they should worry about the chip on their shoulder.

    Can’t somebody reassure them that they won the effing election? They won!


    Maybe if we gave them Tiu’s day to be Yahweh’s day that would satisfy them.

    Nah, it wouldn’t. How much you want to bet they whine and cry about ‘The Passion” not getting any Oscars?

  12. “Christians are drawing a line in the snow this season against any further secular encroachment on their most significant religious holiday.”

    Easter is the most significant religious holiday for Christians. Christmas runs 2nd…

    This is something that a lot of Christians talk about amongst themselves, and I think that it just got taken advantage of by some right-wing commentators. There is a perception that the use of “holiday” is always specifically used to avoid mention of Christmas. Yes, the problem is ultimately not with the “liberal media” but rather with commercial retailers for whom it is in their material interest to not appear to alienate non-Christians. However, when people refer to “holiday stockings” (gee, which “holiday” uses stockings?) and ask patrons wearing a Santa Hat at a store the week before Christmas if they’d like to ship their gifts in order to “arrive in time for ‘the holiday,'” it starts to sound silly and like a personal affront to those that celebrate Christmas.

  13. Merry Christmas from this rock solid atheist, John!
    I don’t really care what it’s called, as long as I get the time off work.

  14. “Christians are drawing a line in the snow this season . . .”

    I know what I use for drawing a line in the snow, and I think Christians should be ashamed of themselves for doing that in public…


  15. I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ, I celebrate a secular holiday that around these parts is also called Christmas. So “Merry Christmas” doesn’t sound like an endorsement of Christianity to me.[1] But there probably is an implicit presumption of Christianity there, just like there is an implicit presumption of maleness in “mankind”. When it comes to gender-neutral language, I care. But when it comes to Christmas, I’m perfectly happy not only saying “Merry Christmas”, but also singing unquestionably religious carols. The hypocracy of that I could understand as offensive, as well as the way I use “Christmas”. But “Happy Holidays”? I’m decidedly unsympathetic about folks who get upset when Christianity isn’t endorsed. I’m more sympathetic to folks whose religious holiday coincides with the “high holy day of capitalism”. But there are a lot of holidays around the solstice, and we’re all going to have to share.
    [1] Not that there’s anything at all wrong with endorsing Christianity, or the true meaning of Christmas. Pressuring others to do the same is another matter of course.

    So Merry Christmas to all.

    “”Christians are drawing a line in the snow this season . . .””
    The word missing here is of course “some”.

  16. Snort that’s funny. I personaly love the christians who will object to the term “X-mas” on the grounds that they believe it takes “Christ” out of the word Christmas. They make me shake my head and laugh laugh laugh…

    Really, I’m always sad to see this argument… it’s a shame that pointing out that “X” is an ancient christian symbol that actually stands for “Christ” doesn’t seem to hold much weight. They seem to like to argue that a spooky conspiracy is using their own history and culture to discriminate against them…

    It’s all really entertaining. Then they went into how Halloween is Satanic and just there to lure kids to Satan with candy. And I had to point out the “Hallow” actually means holy and come off like a smug bastard because people don’t even care to take the time to reference anything…

    Sigh, but it does mean I get to link to info until they start yelling at me with all caps that I’m “missing the point.” Fun! =D


  17. My habit of many years is simply to say:

    Have a Happy and a Merry, too!

    The which I extend to you all.

    The Grinch-tians will simply have to sniff
    stockings and eat coal.

  18. In my home country of Scotland, wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas” means “Have a great time, eat like a horse, drink like a fish, party till you drop and then go to bed happy”. Or, at least, that’s how I interpret it. I could be wrong, but what do I care.

    So have a stonking big fat merry Christmas y’all! Okay?

  19. Wait, Christians are upset that secular humanists are using “Happy Holidays” to hijack Christmas? Maybe they should tell it to late December’s former owners: pagans doing the Winter Solstice fertility thing. (And I don’t think that Christians employed mere terminology when they were snagging the season from its previous celebrants. Weren’t those early Christians using, like, the Roman army to enforce their update?)

    Not that this means we shouldn’t drink and be joyous and stuff. Just remind ourselves where most holidays come from: They don’t inherently mean one thing or another, rather, they are built upon layers of previous festivals, some of which may have had a decidely different meaning. (And if you don’t think that this rate of change is accelerating, check out Xmas in Christian/Buddhist/Shinto Tokyo sometime.)

    And of course, John you pedant, the same thing happens in language. Here in Australia (as in England) the word “holidays” is consistently used to mean “paid vacation time.” As in, “Fuck shaving, I’m on my holidays!”

  20. I printed up black-on-white generic-looking cards a few years ago that proclaimed, “Happy Ambiguous Seasonal Holiday!” on the front, and “Innocuous salutation!” inside.

    No one but me liked them.

  21. Well . . . here’s my question, not to overthink the matter. What is the purpose of saying “Merry Christmas” in the first place? If it’s like “Have a nice day!”, then it doesn’t have much religious meaning, and to replace it with “Happy Holidays!” doesn’t seem to me to be a big deal. Because . . . whatever, if you’re looking for a meaningless but friendly greeting, why not pick one that has no capacity to make people feel mildly excluded, as some people do if they don’t celebrate Christmas and are told, “Merry Christmas”? Which isn’t to say I object to “Merry Christmas” either — as has been repeatedly pointed out, it’s often a relatively secular greeting, but by the same token, if a store decides to go with something else, who cares? Who cares if you say “Merry Christmas”? Or “Happy Holidays”? Or “Have a great day,” or “Thank you for shopping at Bloomingdales,” or “Nice meeting you”? If it’s a pleasantry, I can’t imagine being offended either by its presence or its absence.

    But the “Save ‘Merry Christmas’!” people seem to be the ones who want it to represent a recognition between two people of their shared religious tradition, in which case . . . yeah, you shouldn’t assume you share a religious tradition with a stranger, because it’s rude. It just strikes me as majoritarian bullying — the constant need to remind everyone of who is The Exception and who is The Rule, down to resenting even a private company who chooses to stop issuing that reminder all the time. And there aren’t, for me, a lot of innocent motives for reminding everyone who The Exceptions are, which is why I’m so suspicious of the people who do it.

  22. I say Merry Christmas and always say this no matter what. I also say Christmas Tree not Holiday Tree. Are people going to change the songs that say Christmas in them to Holiday I think not. People should be ashamed of themselves even thinking about calling this holiday something else, it is Christmas and it will stay that way for years to come period.

  23. Oddly enough, Sylvian, I don’t think anyone calls Christmas anything other than Christmas, so I’m not entirely sure what your point is, there.

  24. Holy-days, Amen. A fellow linguist salutes you for pointing out the obvious. I came across this line of thought in your blog while googling for another term besides this one for Federal “off-days” — sure enough, the entire governmental vacation schedule is designated as “holidays” — go figure. I completely missed all the hullabaloo over last year’s holidays, so it took me a while to realize the majority of this thread is dated 2004. Can’t believe this silliness is still going on…

    I was raised Christian and still practice the faith (in a slightly different form,) but also have Jewish friends and Wiccan friends and Christian friends, etc. For years I have consciously chosen to use “Happy Holidays” when out & about, mainly because it began to feel more and more awkward to wish a stranger “Merry Christmas” if you had no idea whether they were celebrating that particular occasion during the season. Things must have just seemed less complicated thirty years ago when I was growing up, but I suppose we were oblivious to the fact that others might have other plans.

    Hey, I don’t mind spreading a little joy and camaraderie amongst the masses (isn’t that what it’s all about?) After all, my birthday falls on the same week as Christmas so I’ve always had more than one reason to party myself (for me, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays translates into Happy Birthday! ;) If us Christian types decide to start excluding others, we surely won’t get any brownie points for promoting peace on earth and good will toward men.

    Check out Dr. Raymond Moore’s White Paper entitled Exclusion by Religion. Although it was inspired by some of the radical goings-on in the homeschooling community — the paper thoroughly exposes the Protestant Exclusivists who have lost the Christian spirit by adhering to their individual interpretation of the letter. Ruins it for the rest of us :P

    My favorite holiday salutation (perhaps not PC, but it’s a heartfelt sentiment, nonetheless :)

    God Bless Us, Every One ~

    Penne, in sunny Florida, where White Christmases are only a dream and the orange and palm trees sway, just like in LA ;)

  25. P.S. I skimmed the notes above, honest (but skipped the rules, ’cause it seemed pretty clearcut.) Unfortunately, I got sidetracked while writing my message and forgot about the Preview and paragraph breaks — mucho apologies.

    Here’s the missing link to “Exclusion by Religion” by Dr. Raymond Moore: It’s the full text of his White Paper plus notes, so it might look like it’s relevant at first, but keep reading.

    Another of my favorite salutations:
    ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo, Amigos!
    (I love languages!) HAND-pda

  26. Batting a thousand today…
    Edit: The White Paper might not look like it’s relevant to this issue, but keep reading. Dr. Moore hits the nail on the head.

    Happy Holidays, already! ;)

  27. Here is what someone else put in another topic like this on another web page makes sense to me.

    It bothers me when I’m told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. I just wanted to know who decided to change it? I cannot say “Happy Holidays” because I feel like an idiot saying it. Why would anyone be offended by the birth of Jesus? For me, I think that is sad that people get offended by something so wonderful like the birth of Jesus Christ and the love he has for us. I will always say “Merry Christmas” to everyone whether they like it or not. I rather please God than man.

    So everyone have a Merry Christmas not Happy Holiday and which Holiday you talking about when you say Happy Holiday think of this, is it Easter, July 1st, July 4th which one Can’t use the word Holiday because it is Christmas Not just a Holiday Thank you

  28. Also I do wish strangers Merry Christmas and they wish me Merry Christmas also. Everyone I know says Merry Christmas also it is the thing to say at the Christmas Season not Happy Holidays that just sounds so stupid to say. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of saying Merry Christmas to anybody at all people will say the same back to you also.

  29. Are you saying that we should only recognize the Christmas holiday during this season? What about the folks who are celebrating other holidays and not-so-holy days? Sure, they can have a Merry Christmas day just like the rest of us, but I’m happy to recognize that there are other days being celebrated at this time of year.

    Of course, “Happy Hol(y)days” really doesn’t cover the secular fêtes, so I’m still being a bit exclusive there, but I can imagine they get the message one way or another. To me it’s just plain silly to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” if you know they do not practice Christianity, particularly my Jewish friends who will commence their Hanukkah rituals on the very same recognized holy-day.

    Anyway, I wish you a very “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays/Season’s Greetings” to everyone else in the whole, wide world who recognizes the season for what they believe it should be.

    Vaya con Dios, Amigos ~

  30. To me it is plain silly not to wish someone Merry Christmas. We have neighbours which are from Indonesia even them we wish Merry Christmas even the Paki and the Chinese at the stores also we wish them Merry Christmas so can’t call it silly. They wish us Merry Christmas also. So to me I say that to people I don’t even know and not one person said nothing bad about it, because they know this is what we celebrate here in Canada and the USA. So don’t call it silly call it what it is Christmas. I find people that call it Holiday silly. Also at Easter and other Holidays why do we not change it just to happy holidays we just don’t do that and why should we at Christmas we should not either. I was brought up saying Merry Christmas and sorry I will not change for anybody at all just plain stupid to change. I wish Everyone a Merry Christmas and keep the word Christ in Christmas the way it is suppose to be thank you very much.

  31. Here is a link also read copy and paste then read away about what the people are trying to do about Christmas sad for sure. Also this is in there but here it is also

    96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, 2003).
    90 percent of Americans recognize Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ (Gallup, 2000).
    88 percent of Americans say it is okay for people to wish others “Merry Christmas” and the majority of Americans are more likely to wish someone they just met “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” (CNN/USA Today/Gallup, 2004).
    87 percent of Americans believe nativity scenes should be allowed on public property (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, 2003).

    So most of the people do celebrate Christmas so keep it at Merry Christmas why change it.

  32. So, this is what it’s all about? Wishing someone “Merry Christmas” is a political statement about the so-called banning of Christian practices in government schools, buildings, and other public places. Ugh — that makes it even worse — how dare they take a beautiful phrase such as this one and use it to further an agenda?! I call that, sacrilegious. You know what’s even more awful — now I’m self-conscious about using “Happy Holidays,” a phrase I’ve used interchangeably with others for many years. I found myself covering at least two of the bases today as a result of this discussion and the recipient shot back, “I like that one better!” (Merry Christmas) So, now I’m potentially offending everyone I meet, no matter what phrase I use :P Brother! and I mean that in the most non-gender way since I have no idea whether you’re male or female…

    Do you wish your non-Christian neighbors and local merchants a “Merry Christmas” simply because nearly everyone in North America takes a “holiday” or rather vacation day on December 25th? That’s the word I was looking for — Vacation Day! Now why don’t they use that phrase for off-days on the Federal calendar, when it’s clear that most are not holy-days?

    I’m curious to know if these folks would be just as enthusiastic about wishing their Jewish friends a “Happy Hanukkah” since it falls on the same holy/vacation day this year, or feel awkward should they be extended the same greeting instead of having their beliefs about Christmas recognized and honored.

    Shall we ignore others’ celebrations simply because there are more Christians in our part of the world? Jesus was born a Jew, after all, and was a friend to sinners of all faiths. Is it a sin to recognize the heritage of God’s first chosen people or anyone else for that matter? Are the Jews not as suppressed as we Christians (even moreso) when the Ten Commandments are removed from the school or courthouse wall, but other ideals are promoted even more religiously there? (One reason we homeschool.) Yet, little or no mention is made of their exclusion by religious interpretation. That’s just one prime example amongst many.

    Christmas is allotted one day of vacation time; those who celebrate Hanukkah happen to get a free day this year by default, and everyone else has to make the best of what they’ve got. The least we can do is wish them well in their celebrations without thumbing our nose at them that ours is the “only” day worth officially recognizing. I’m still disappointed and disgusted to learn that MC is a corrupted PC term now (Bah, humbug :P) It’s just one more blot on what was once the most joyous and giving time of the year. Gotta be a better way to get the point across!

    God Help Us, Every One ~

  33. Someone sure needs help that is for sure wishing someone Merry Christmas,nothing wrong that is for sure and yes I wish everyone I know and don’t even know a Merry Christmas. To me just saying Happy Holidays means nothing to me at all because what Holiday are you talking about nobody knows period. I have been wishing people Merry Christmas all my life and will continue to I never heard of calling it nothing else but Christmas and never plan on changing it for nobody at all either. I also do wish People happy New Years, Happy Easter, Happy 4th of July for the USA, and Happy Canada Day for Canada, why should we change Christmas to something else smarten up ok. And if I were in another country like China or Pakistan I would be the minority there and I would be expected to be like their Holidays why should we change because of Foreigners coming into our country I don’t think so. Sorry but to me it will be Merry Christmas and Christmas Tree Christmas baking and so on and will stay that way for me, my family, and my children the way it is suppose to stay. Will people start changing Christmas songs now I don’t think so. And also Christmas is for one thing for everyone the birth of Jesus Christ so Christmas does sound better it has the word Christ in it shame on people for even thinking of changing this to something else, people are ashamed of Christ now shame on people. Also I rather please Christ then men that is for sure so keep Christ in Christmas and Merry Christmas everyone.

    And yes God Help you People that is for sure you sure need it.

  34. Please accept without obligation,express or implied, these best wishes for an environmentally safe, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, and gender neutral celebration of the hemispherically dependent summer/winter solstice holiday as practised within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice(but with respect for the religious or secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or for their choice not to practise religious or secular traditions at all) and further for a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated onset of the generally accepted calendar year (including, but not limited to, the Christian calendar, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures). The preceding wishes are extended without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishees.

  35. I like alot of your points but I think the persons who said or think “Merry Christmas you jerk” aren’t christians.
    I really didn’t know I was offending someone when I said Merry Christmas. It has been just this year when a super store inforced the “Happy Holiday” thing that brought it to my attention. These “enforcers” also had a spirit of excluding whether they understood the “Holiday” word or not there meaning was clear. I think most of us give what ever greating in the best spirit. If I say Merry Christmas it just tells you a little about me. :)

  36. I enjoyed reading the comments here, as many are the same as my own thinking. Being a non-believer in God’s continued existance, does not prevent me from believing that Christ was born and that he promoted good will among men and women, even if he was not a saint. I celebrate Christmas because of that AND Santa Clause.

    This time is called Christmas, not Happy Holidays or the worst one, Season’s Greetings. I love giving and opening gifts. I think Santa Clause was the best thing to happen to kids. To see the shine in their faces, to see the smiles on adult’s faces during this once a year period of time. The first world war stopped on Christmas.

    I don’t personally think the minorities entering this continent object very much to anyone saying Merry Christmas. It is the do gooders who think they don’t like it, that cause the trouble. Do these idiots realize that Christmas exits in other counties? Does anyone really think a non Christian is not going to purchase something from a store that references Christmas, especially since the inside of the store is filled with Christmas decorations, implying that you should buy a gift for what was that again, Christmas?

    I also like the comment about what would happen in other countries if you tried to outlaw calling their religious holiday what it is. Do you want your cell in the basement or the main floor?

    Ted Cumber (Canada)