What’s the Big Deal About Saying Happy Holidays Anyway?


Is it Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Afraid that picking one over the other might trigger a PR disaster? You’re not alone. In the last few years, there’s been a bit of a debate over our choice of greetings. “Happy Holidays” has gained popularity as it’s seen as a way to include those who enjoy other holidays during this time of year.

Controversy aside, where did “Happy Holidays” actually come from anyway?

Well, this may come as a bit of a surprise, but it’s not anything new. In fact, its roots go way back…

I did a little Christmas market research, so to speak, and found out that “Merry Christmas”, derives from the Old English Cristes Maesse, or the Mass of Christ. “Happy Holidays” also has origins in Christianity. The word “Holiday” first emerged in the 1500s as a descendant of the medieval word haliday, which itself was a replacement for the Old English “haligdæg” which meant holy day, or any religious holiday.1

Now in today’s English, holiday can mean just about any day of celebration. Heck, when a British person says they’re “going on holiday”, they mean they’re going on vacation!

Neat, huh? So, when did “Happy Holidays” gain popularity in the United States?

“Happy Holidays” is known to have been in use as far back as the December 5, 1863 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.2 But it didn’t come into regular usage until around the last century, where it can be found in tobacco ads: Camels in 1937 and R.J. Reynolds tobacco advertisements in Carolina Magazine from 1935 to 1942.

How about that? Turns out that “Happy Holidays” has been with us for a long time and doesn’t even mean the same thing as “Merry Christmas”. It’s not a replacement – it’s really an optional greeting that acknowledges all the various holidays, religious or otherwise, our very diverse nation celebrates around this time.

Think about it: In addition to Christmas, there’s the holy days of Hannukah and Kwanzaa, and now that the word “holiday” encompasses any day of celebration, we can also drop in Thanksgiving and New Year’s as well.

There’s so much celebrating to do – no time to be fretting over which greeting to use, am I right??

With that said, I wish you all a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.

Let’s close out 2020 on a high note and make 2021 our year to shine!


Now, go celebrate!

Karla Jo Helms

Chief Evangelist and Anti-PR Strategist (BIO)

Direct 727-777-4618

Main 888-202-4614 x802


JoTo PR Disruptors


  1. Pruitt, Sarah. “The War of Words behind ‘Happy Holidays’.” History.com, 14 December 2017, history.com/news/the-war-of-words-behind-happy-holidays.
  2. Aldrich, Jeremy. “History of ‘Happy Holidays’.” Jeremy Aldrich, 23 December 2011, hburgjeremy.com/2011/12/history-of-happy-holidays.html.