© 2022 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

OnWords: Happy Holidays


I started bidding people “happy holidays” a long time ago.

For my part, this greeting has nothing to do with a war on Christmas or political correctness. It’s really about laziness and respect.

Since people honor a variety of end-of-year celebrations, it just makes sense to me to show respect for whatever it is they do celebrate. I can’t know what everybody celebrates, but that shouldn’t stop me from bidding them good ones, whatever they may be.

But it’s also lazy of me because by saying “happy holidays,” I don’t have to actually find out what everybody celebrates. I can just lump them all together in a blanket statement of goodwill without doing the hard work of remembering their preferences.

That some find the term “happy holidays” offensive, though, indicates just how powerful language can be. The symbolic power of how we communicate is often more powerful than what we communicate.

For those who are set off by “happy holidays,” what is heard is not a warm offer of end-of-year cheer but rather an open attack on all they hold dear.

The symbols, then, and the figures they evoke are not the dressing on our conversational salad, but the rich meat of how we think.