Happy/Merry Christmas

The seasonal discussion of Happy Christmas vs. Merry Christmas has sprung up again on the American Dialect Society mailing list. The facts, in brief, are that Merry Christmas is now the standard greeting in the U.S. and is far from unknown in the U.K., though Happy Christmas has some history in the U.S. (in “A Visit from St. Nicholas” — “‘Twas the night before Christmas” — the jolly old elf wishes “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”) and seems still to predominate in the U.K.

David Daniel has now offered this link to an enormously affecting performance, by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir, of “Happy Christmas (War is Over)“, in which Lennon sings “happy” — and the billboards have “happy” on them, as here:

John Lennon’s 70th birthday went by back in October (on the 9th) — he was just a bit younger than I am — and then his 30th deathday came up earlier this month (on the 8th), a moment of great sorrow for me. Back in 2003, while my man was dying, I wrote a poem (included in a posting here) on Yoko Ono’s 70th birthday that was in fact an act of mourning for John (“You damned / Earnest angry / Boy who / Sang for me”), a man who finally found delight and a kind of peace in his partnership with Yoko (they looked ridiculously happy together) and in caring for their son Sean, but then was murdered at the age of 40.

Death is with us. And war is very much not over. Here we weep.

But in an hour my little family will appear, we will exchange a very few presents (mostly for my grand-daughter), and then have our now-customary Christmas meal, dim sum lunch at a local Hong Kong restaurant, enjoying a happy Chinese-Jewish moment.

5 Responses to “Happy/Merry Christmas”

  1. Chris Waigl Says:

    A very happy and merry Christmas to you & your family!

    (Yup, this year as well, you hear both in the UK. I love this find.)

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    David Barnhart on ADS-L: “The Queen of England used “Happy Christmas” in her annual Christmas message today.”

    • Chris Ambidge Says:

      [sigh] I realise you’re quoting Mr Barnhart, but the last “Queen of England” was Anne, who traded that title (along with Queen of Scotland, etc) for Queen of Great Britain in 1707. I’m reliably informed that Queen Anne did not make a Christmas broadcast by television, and certainly not this year.

      To refer to her present Majesty (even though it is very commonly done, especially on this continent) as Queen of England is like referring to Mr Obama as President of Tennessee or President of New Hampshire. England is not a separate, self-governing country. It is not a nation. it is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, and that is what HM is Queen of. Or she is Queen of Canada. Or Queen of Jamaica. But *not* Queen of England as a stand-alone title.

  3. Ian Preston Says:

    You certainly hear “Happy Christmas” in the UK but I disagree that it predominates. “Merry Christmas” seems to me notably more common, partly because of the stock contrast between Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I just checked my family’s Christmas cards received this year from within the UK – “Merry” outnumbers “Happy” in the ratio 5:1.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Maybe “merry” has been spreading faster in the UK than I’d realized.

      On the other hand, I was talking about “Happy/Merry Christmas” as an entire greeting, intending (without saying this in a fairly brief posting) to exclude the pairing of “Merry Christmas” with “Happy New Year”, where the contrast is more effective than a repetition of “happy” would be. So I wonder what the figures would look like if the pairings were excluded.

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