Monday, December 5, 2011

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays

Meaning (mëning), n. what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated. (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary).

At this season a large number of letter-writers to the editor of any newspaper express concern over the use of the term “Happy Holidays” instead of the traditional “Merry Christmas.” The writers feel that the holiday is somehow demeaned by the former greeting.
The meaning of any expression is what the speaker intends it to be – nothing more, nothing less. If the listener takes some other meaning from the expression for any reason, e.g, the speaker has expressed it badly, the listener did not hear it correctly, or even if he disagrees with the speaker, it has no effect on the meaning. For this reason, the speaker should be careful to say exactly what he means. If he is a Christian, and Christmas has its usual deep meaning for him, he should say “Merry Christmas.”
In return, if the listener truly intends for the speaker to celebrate the holiday in a meaningful way, he should reply in kind: “Merry Christmas.”
If the speaker means only that the listener should enjoy the spirit of goodwill which the season implies, there is nothing wrong with “Happy Holidays.” The most devout Christian, Jew or Muslim should take the greeting in the spirit in which it is offered: a goodwill wish for joy and celebration.
But what about the banners and signs in business establishments?
Again, it is the preference of the store management which guides the choice. It is definitely not out of line for, say, a Christian bookstore to have a “Merry Christmas” banner. But not wishing to offend any customers - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. - a large department store will probably opt for “Happy Holidays.”
Political correctness has been blown way out of proportion. Although a word is only a sound we make to convey a meaning, there are some words which almost all people consider to be offensive, e.g., George Carlin's seven dirty words, or certain other words which are deliberately meant to be racial, ethnic or religious slurs. When these words are used, the speaker has demeaned himself far more than the object of his venomous outburst.
But whatever expression a speaker uses to convey goodwill, peace and joy, the listener should consider the intent behind the expression and accept the offering graciously, even though he might say it differently.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

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